It is always impactful when a band stands the test of time and challenges what is popular and unpopular in the ever-changing music industry. That is why it is a wonder to behold California punk rockers SWMRS celebrating their 15th year together with the release of their latest studio album, Berkeley’s On Fire.
Following 2016’s Drive North, SWMRS had been hard at work to hone a unique yet inspired sound for their follow-up. The group have been praised for a sound that pays perfect homage to their own punk predecessors of the 1990s and 2000s – some of whom do not make such movements in recent times as SWMRS does – and Berkeley’s On Fire is sure to be a fan favourite.
What separates SWMRS from other punk bands is they take pleasure in sticking to a classic punk sound – one that older brothers and sisters or long-term, in-depth fans would most likely appreciate. The sound differs from recent blends with electronic elements found in pop-punk favourites Fall Out Boy and even heavier punk outfits such as Bring Me The Horizon. It is a divisive tactic, but SWMRS made their decision right from the first track, the title track “Berkeley’s On Fire.” With a repetitive guitar riff, empowering chant-like chorus, and a theme of anarchy playing alongside a sense of disturbance and disruption, the opening song proves that the band know their punk history and embrace it. Punk is never dead, and SWMRS intend on keeping it that way.
The next track, “Too Much Coffee,” solidifies the band’s 1990s influence and the sentiment that punk rock will always remember its roots. There is a standout moment in “Trashbag Baby” where Cole and Max Becker are engaged in a musical duel of sorts, which brings in a slight hint of theatricality. From working terrifically in harmonic moments to being used to create an echo-based chant, it keeps listeners hooked and intrigued Such as a stage play brings in viewers, SWMRS bring in listeners with old but revitalized tricks.
One of the breakout hits of the album is “April in Houston.” With rounds of percussion courtesy of Joey Armstrong and strums of a guitar, it begins by breaking the mold the group formed previously. Despite the album being a chilly February release, “April in Houston” would suit the warm and relaxing American summers that no doubt the band know inside and out by now, hailing from sunny California. Using more technological assistance, including the addition of gentle birds chirping, it sticks out but in the right way. An honest rarity, but they found a method to this madness.
How does one sum up Berkeley’s On Fire? It’s a resurrection of what began punk’s evolution throughout the 2010s and presents its heritage to newer fans of the genre. A history lesson with no textbooks, SWRMS’ latest album demonstrates why all types of music, not just punk rock, should never cut ties with their roots; there is always room for a comeback. Let SWMRS bring on the comeback and save the origins of punk.