By MILES PREKOSKI
Since the release of their major-label debut LP, the once-unknown Oakland pop-punk group known as SWMRS emerged as a vibrant and potential-filled group that appealed to a wide audience. Now with the release of their second album, the group brings a great collection highlighting a revitalized post-punk, new wave mix.
The album comes after SWMRS, formerly known as Emily’s Army, signed with Fueled By Ramen—a move that also brought along a completely new producer for “Berkley’s on Fire”: Rick Costey produced this entire record.
The album kicks off with the most political and complex song on the album: “Berkeley’s on Fire.” The title track centers on a loud, punk rock-driven instrumental coupled with insightful lyrics from Max Becker, the group’s lead guitarist and singer. The Ramones, Beach Boys and The Clash are worn on the young quartet’s shoulders.
“Confusing This Freedom Speech With Swastikas, Like Milo Yiannopoulos” sticks out. The song blatantly calls out the February 2017 Berkeley riots in a bombastic, almost immature manner. “Berkeley’s on Fire” serves as a big middle finger to the face of America’s capitalist ideology and its pervasive far-right subcultures.
The loud, attention-grabbing attitude of the band doesn’t stop there. SWMRS somehow finds a way to string together different tones as the album progresses. “Lose Lose Lose” drives home a borderline delusional set of lyrics but plays with serious concepts quite playfully. “If I got pushed down one more time, I’ll lose lose lose my mind” is the bulk of the hook, but the song doesn’t sound saddening at all.
At the halfway point of the album, the group manages to bring catchy hooks and great bass solos from Seb Mueller, who also wrote multiple songs off the tape. The band’s drummer, Joey Armstrong, is a co-founder of the band, but drumming prowess runs in his blood as Joey is the son of Billie Joe Armstrong, iconic frontman and guitarist for Green Day.
While Max Becker takes the lead on most tracks, it would be remiss to not address the performance of Cole Becker, the other half of the Becker pair in the band. Cole was the lead singer on the band’s most popular single to date, “Lose it” and continues to shine on three of the ten songs on the album and provides a balance between the lively, punk rock from Max on most other songs. “IKEA Date” brings a nostalgic, slower tone to the album, stocked with synthesizers and slow electric guitar.
The album finishes with “Steve Got Robbed,” an odd way to finish off the project. Cole Becker uses a character, the titular Steve, to create a song attacking the corrupt government we live in. The song takes some minor shots at capitalism, urging us to take back what was taken from us.
What’s great about this album is the high energy array of diverse songs on the thing. ‘80s punk rock, alternative-pop, bits and pieces of funk and spoken word music, you name it. The SWMRS have established themselves as a notable alternative band to watch.