album review: berkeley’s on fire

Written by Natalie Spina

It has been a long three years since the East Bay natives, SWMRS, released their debut album Drive North. Joining the ranks of bands like All Time Low, Blink-182, and more while touring that album, they’ve taken the time to find their footing amongst their rising popularity. The experience they’ve gained during this time period is evident in their brand new and highly anticipated sophomore album, Berkeley’s On Fire. Departing from the coming of age themes in their previous album, Berkeley’s On Fire seeks out an artistic demonstration of the dichotomous spirits of today’s modern youth in the face of the current social climate. From the readied buzz of revolution to the instantaneous low of feeling powerless, Berkeley’s On Fire will go down in books as one that can surely define this otherwise indescribable moment in time.

The thematic distinction of the album is attributed to the skills of frontmen, Cole and Max Becker, who haven proven their artistry as lyricists. SWMRS have never shied away from a political voice within their writing but Berkeley’s On Fire is ambitious in its ability to ambiguously address issues not only specific to today but to ones that extend across generations. They achieve this by weaving their own personal experiences and emotions with historical events that relate and feed into those universal feelings. Tracks like “Too Much Coffee,” “Lonely Ghosts,” and “Trashbag Baby,” help pull the listener in with those more personal themes while “Berkeley’s On Fire,” “Lose Lose Lose,” and “Hellboy” address specifics: the Berkeley protest in 2017, the 1974 kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, the actions of Charles Manson, the modern threats of Vladmir Putin, etc. While each song can perfectly stand on its own, they all feed into each other to elevate the album’s duality.

The musical attributes of each song further demonstrate the band’s ability to work on opposite sides of a spectrum. Featuring gritty guitars by the Beckers, heavy bass by Sebastian Mueller and latin-influenced drums by Joey Armstrong, “Berkeley’s On Fire” leads us in with an energetic anger that is carried through the album with “Lose Lose Lose,” and “Hellboy.”  On the other hand, tracks like “Too Much Coffee,” “Bad Allergies,” and “Ikea Date” hold a strange maturity and wistfulness within their lyrics. Musically, the approach to these songs helps to deliver the necessary grounding of the album into something more contemplative. The bright guitar licks and playful electronic hooks embed a sentimental vulnerability into the songs that highlight the gentler, melodic side of the band.

Though SWMRS attribute themselves to the punk rock genre, they don’t allow themselves to get tied down by the limits imposed by genre purists. Rather, they’ve cultivated a whole new genre, filled with the punk rock spirit but unafraid to modernize and push forward the tired clichés of typical punk bands. The album has a heavy electronic influence but it doesn’t detract from the rock soul of the tangible instruments played. This adventurous fusion claims SWMRS as the leaders in an innovative take on modern rock music, one that looks to and draws upon all types of influences to create something new. SWMRS even dip their fingers further into hip-hop, which they played with on Drive North, but don’t hesitate to turn it up a notch on this album – most noticeably on standout track, “Steve Got Robbed.” Even the amount of artist influences apparent throughout the album are so astonishingly broad, it’s impossible to identify them all. The Beastie Boys, The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, and The Hives are just a few names to pick up on.

The leaps SWMRS have taken between Drive North and Berkeley’s On Fire are not a sign of any type of abandonment, but a sign of blossoming content. SWMRS give back to the fans with this album, continuing to give a voice to the disenfranchised and inspiring courage and creativity. Their lyrics and style hold tightly to themes of resilience that offer glints of hope for those that flock to their music. Supported by Beach Goons and The Regrettes, SWMRS are touring this album made-for-the-people throughout spring 2019, coming to Southern California on March 28th in San Diego and wrapping up in Los Angeles on May 3rd. This past Sunday, SWMRS gave a killer preview performance of Berkeley’s On Fire at Fingerprints Records in Long Beach, assuring that their upcoming shows aren’t ones you’re going to want to miss.  

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