Words by Hannah Fitzpatrick

After signing with New York City based record label Fueled By Ramen and releasing their LP Drive North, Oakland-based punk rockers SWMRS have returned to the punk scene with their follow up record, Berkeley’s On Fire. Though the band itself initially got a lot of attention because their drummer, Joey Armstrong, is Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s son, Berkeley’s On Fire puts together a collection of eccentric tracks that blend together a multitude of punk, alt-rock and surf rock elements, making their sound an identity of its own.

The LP starts off with the title track “Berkeley’s On Fire.” This track is attention-grabbing from the get-go, with intricate, hard rock guitar riffs and groovy drum beats. Vocalist and guitarist Cole Becker references to the 2017 riots at the University of California, Berkeley after alt-right political commentator political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the college, which fits with the overall message of the song – a massive middle finger to the Trump administration and the alt-right political movement. These elements, along with a catchy chorus that is easy to sing and dance to, makes this an addicting, impressive way to begin the album.

The next song, “Too Much Coffee,” is also an overall captivating track. The guitar riffs are the strongest aspects here – there are three different riffs varying in pitch and complexity, and when blended together, flows like honey from a honeybee’s nest. The addition of high-pitched background vocals in its introduction is a delicate touch that is able to show off the range of the band’s vocalists. However, the use of two lead vocalists – brothers Cole and Max Becker – can prove to be a disadvantage at times, and it is especially present in this song. Lead guitarist Max Becker’s voice sounds incredibly nasal and off-putting, which reduces the overall quality of the song to a mediocre-sounding pop punk track.

Though the typical “down with the government” innuendos are still scattered across this LP, there are some tracks that show that SWMRS is able to address deeper emotions through its lyrics. Their Billboard charting single “April In Houston” focuses on feelings of depression and despair (“Everybody wants to get me high / But where will they go when I’m low”), while “Bad Allergies” discusses insecurities that the vocalist has when being with his lover (“I got bad allergies in the spring time / And sometimes I can’t remember names”). These lyrics, incorporated with a mellow acoustic guitar riff and Max Becker’s smooth vocal range, makes “Bad Allergies” Max Becker’s vocally strongest song.

The final track on the album, “Steve Got Robbed,” is an unexpected twist, and proves to be an intriguing way to end the LP. It pulls on variations of a gritty, hip-hop influenced sound by including a hard rock guitar riff and simple drum tracks, giving it a Rage Against The Machine sort of vibe. More importantly, it shows off the band’s versatility in style, and that they are not afraid to experiment with different genres and sub-genres.

“Berkeley’s On Fire” is without a doubt a high-energy, memorable album. Though SWMRS exudes punk rock, the band is not afraid to experiment – much to their own benefit. Though it may sound like a cliché punk record to some, this LP is unlike any album released in 2019 so far, and it is fair to argue that SWMRS is unlike any band in the current alternative scene.

‘Berkeley’s on Fire’
© February 15, 2019


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