With being a lover of pop punk/pop, in general, I’m always looking for that spirit of the late 90’s and early 2000’s vibes that were the height of the genre. So when I found SWMRS back in 2016 at a gig in London, I was really impressed with how good they were, then I listen to their really solid debut album under the SWMRS name, Drive North, and since then, I keep an eye out for any new releases from the Oakland band formerly known as Emily’s Army.
When I had a listen to Drive North, which was re-released via Fueled by Ramen in 2016, I have to say that I was blown away with how fun and catchy everything was, and the mix’s of styles that work really well and it took me back to the 2000s, which is my era of music.
That brings us to their new album titled Berkeley’s On Fire, and we start with the title track, which is a really fun and gritty track with a lot going on. Led by a lovely mix of different drums from normal to Caribbean drums, cool distorted and clean guitar arrangements, and the old school punk vocals from lead singer Max Becker, the track is a controlled mess in the best possible well.
The controlled mess works well with the song’s theme and crude responses to riots and anger. Lyrics like “too many, too many motherf**kers, confusing this freedom speech with swastikas” are really powerful, and get to the point, with the band not holding back, which I love.
We then get to “Too Much Coffee“, which comes with catchy and fun vibe, like you’re driving down California in the sunlight and with that guitar lead, the track is so smooth and fun to listen to. It is well put together, with a big chorus and great instrumentation, you feel good at the end of this one. This is helped by memorable lines like “Don’t tell me how to sing this song, ‘Cause I got everything it takes so“.
The band offer more of the same on “Trashbag Baby” with a guitar lead line that really gets the song moving and I haven’t even got to how the bass and drums really help with the simple but effective beat and notes that make you want to get into headbanging.
The big chorus comes to play again here, with the chorus line, “she said ‘I can’t wait, I can’t wait’ til there’s no soreness in my arms“, it really stands out in your head for a long time.
“Lose Lose Lose” serves as an end to the run of great fun and energetic songs that start the album. With its really nice gritty guitar and bass arrangements, as well as another catchy chorus, it makes for a memorable offering, with very well put together vocal harmonies and group vocals added that will sound really good live.
Lines like “I know I swore if I got pushed down one more time, I’d lose, lose, lose my mind” in the chorus and “2019 is a f**king disaster, Dear Vladimir Putin, stop f**king up my shit ‘Cause I know I can f**k it up faster” in the second verse, make this a fun track to add to the playlist.
We get to chill with “April In Houston“, which has a very 2000’s pop-punk summer vibe to it. While it’s not as hard hitting as the previous songs on the album, the chill picky guitar melody really drive the whole song.
With a repeating chorus line “Everybody wants to get me high” and lines like “I told my mom I’d never stay out after dark, f**k it all, I plead the fifth. Modern music makes me sick and leaves me hungry for some action“, it’s a really nice addition to the album.
“Lonely Ghosts” starts with a really 70’s rock tone on the guitar, and in general, the track is pretty amazing. Everything about this song is so old school punk, with a nice clean finish to it. The chorus also sounds good and rounds the track up as great to listen to.
The album slows things down with “IKEA Date” with its dreamy feel, led by a lush guitar arrangement throughout and not much else going on really. This track, is in my opinion, a bit less memorable than the others, but it makes for a nice come down after all the full-on songs before it.
Now we get to my favorite song on the whole album, “Hellboy“, which unleashes more fast-paced punk rock goodness, with everything being loud, amplified and powerful, which is everything I love about punk. The chorus is insane and like “Lonely Ghosts”, would sound so cool live, the repeat of “Hellboy” really keeps it in your head once again.
The album ends with a track that’s on the slower ballad spectrum titled “Bad Allergies” and “Steve Got Robbed“. “Bad Allergies” is a nice song with cool moments and a bass line that really drives the track, with high tones from Max, it’s a solid track for what it is, and “Steve Got Robbed” is a really nice end to a pretty amazing album.
Overall, Berkeley’s On Fire is an album that has everything I love about energy, great guitar playing, awesome basslines, and gritty and passionate vocals. I wish we had more music like this, and I really suggest you check this album out. Purchase SWMRS Berkeley’s On Fire on iTunes here and stream it on Spotify below.
Words by Stuart Irvine