SWMRS Perfect Their Alt-rock Evolution With 'Berkeley's On Fire'

I first discovered SWMRS when Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong shared their single "Avenue." The band was then under the name Emily’s Army, and I soon found out that Armstrong’s son, Joey, was the drummer. From then on, I was hooked, and to this day, the two LPs that Emily’s Army released are two of my favorite pop punk albums of all time. With their EP “Swim,” they changed up their aesthetic a little bit, and while I enjoyed that EP to a degree, it didn’t live up to their previous work.

Then came the name change. Emily’s Army was now SWMRS (with a period being called Swimmers, but that was short-lived). When their debut album under the new name, Drive North, came out I was less than pleased, to say the least. I was not ready to move on from what the boys had done with Don’t Be a Dick and Lost at 17. Drive North still leaves something to be desired, but I have come around on it. Now it is 2019, and Berkeley’s On Fire is here.

Berkeley's on Fire

The album opens with the eclectic title track featuring a quirky vocal performance from Cole Becker. SWMRS does a great job of distributing vocal duties between Cole and Max, the two Becker brothers. While Max’s voice has always been preferred by me (lead on "Too Much Coffee," as opposed to Cole’s lead on the title track), his songs just seem slightly weaker overall to me. That being said, it isn’t a significant difference. A track like "Trashbag Baby," where the brothers exhibit a fantastic call and response element, is one of the greatest songs on the entire album. Some of the other greatest songs on the album are "IKEA Date," "Lose Lose Lose," "Hellboy," and "Lonely Ghosts." The more I listen to this record the harder it is to review because there are so many things about it that I love more every time I listen. "Hellboy" gives off a very driving punk vibe, which is always awesome. On the other hand, "IKEA Date" shows Max giving a very heartfelt performance with slower instrumentals and amazing quirky synth lines.

A song like "Too Much Coffee" tends to become forgettable and lost in the tracklist. This isn’t to say its a bad song, but it just doesn’t really give that eclectic and strange vibe that the rest of the songs do. SWMRS are doing what they do best when making weird alternative punk shit. "Lonely Ghost" sounds too normal (as if that would ever be a bad thing to say). "Too Much Coffee" just seems to be played too safe, even with all of the background elements. The song just comes off as a slightly uninspired alternative rock song, and if it weren’t for Max’s distinct voice, it would probably be lost within thousands of other songs that sound just like it. Overall, though, the track has its standout moments that are worth coming back for, and their strange style is so unique in today’s increasingly bland alternative music scene.

The best thing about this record is that SWMRS are doing exactly what they want to do. They may have cleaned up their sound a little bit, but at the same time, they are doing really weird things. For example, on "Steve Got Robbed" we hear an almost reggae-esque beat and melody in the chorus and semi-industrial instrumentals. It’s a very weird song, but at the same time, it's super catchy. It is very hard to not appreciate what SWMRS are doing by unabashedly being themselves. They truly don’t care about people like me who really miss their old name and sound. The truth is, I haven’t seen almost anyone who is like me in that regard. Something I’ve found more and more fascinating from following them for the past five-plus years is that their fanbase (especially after the transition) has been loyal as hell. I see nothing but love for them on Twitter.

I think this is safe to say that SWMRS have finally won me over. My stubborn ass didn’t ever want to move on from those Emily’s Army albums. Berkeley’s On Fire is a great record that proves SWMRS is one of the best bands in the alternative scene that are pushing boundaries and bringing innovation back to the forefront. This album is fantastic. SWMRS are some of the truest performers of our day in the rock scene and I have no doubt that they will continue to make it bigger and bigger. Check out Berkeley’s On Fire. You won’t regret it.

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