Part of what makes underground punk rockers SWMRS so exciting is their innate understanding of pop culture at the moment. Drummer Joey Armstrong (the son of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong) admits that he’s a huge movie fan, something that naturally plays a large role in his ability to create music. Meanwhile, the co-leader of the quartet, Cole Becker, expressed his admiration for Miley Cyrus in an Op-Ed article for Berkeley’s Local Cal newspaper.
Whether intentional or not, Becker seamlessly borrows Cyrus’ rowdy personality for their newest album, Berkeley’s On Fire. Sure, it’s a bold title that may cause some debate amongst people from different political spectrums, but what do you expect from a group that prides itself on being off-the-wall with their stylistic, and thematic approaches to music? They have to be provocative, otherwise what they’re saying doesn’t matter.
The quartet aptly starts the project off with the title track, a post-punk, in-your-face acknowledgment of the riots at the UC Berkeley school in 2017 (“And you put your pom-poms down/you didn’t win shit, go/Bail out your guilty ass”). Becker and Armstrong aren’t necessarily taking a side on the incident, but rather subjecting audiences to the bigger problems we face as individuals in this murky political landscape. It’s one thing to protest for something one believes in, but doing it just to start conflict seems counterintuitive, according to the group. It’s a great point that rarely gets brought up in today’s music.
For the most part, SWMRS showcases their superb songwriting skills over a variety of different production choices. The band shows a much more subdued side, especially when it comes to the way they project their emotions. They’re message isn’t necessarily sacrificed, but rather commercialized in a way.
Their youthfulness can be refreshing, like on “Trashbag Baby” (“She said ‘I can’t wait, I can’t wait ’til there’s no soreness in my arms And I can’t wait, I can’t wait, ’til there’s no scar across my heart'”), or obnoxious like on the comically written “Lose Lose Lose.” While the lyrics about Vladimir Putin can be argued as deserved (“Dear Vladimir Putin, stop fucking up my shit”), the way in which they are written are a little too juvenile to be taken seriously. Then again, that’s what listeners should expect in the millennial post-punk era. A bunch of attitude, mixed with straightforward logic. “Bad Allergies” also features good intentions, but falls flat in the lyrical department because of it’s meme-inducing chorus. It also acts as a head-scratching second-to-last track. It’s moments like these where listeners may have second thoughts about the credibility of a band like this.
SWMRS does find a natural balance between tactful songwriting and designed catchiness. The pop-rock ballad, “April in Houston,” follows the story of when one of their shows went terribly wrong because of a nearby train explosion. Once again, they’re introspective look into the bigger picture of life is what adds this much-needed third dimension to the punk genre.
Becker and company dabbles with some light EDM as well on the lovesick anthem, “IKEA Date.” The track is a prime example of the playful, but urgent tone throughout the second half of the record. The aesthetic is carefully strung within the album’s final few songs, especially on “Hellboy.” Production-wise, it’s a sudden switch-up from “IKEA Date.” Regardless, it still follows the same ultra-expressive blueprint.
While tonally inconsistent at times, SWMRS fits the millennial mold to perfection on Berkeley’s on Fire. Armstrong finds inspiration from his father’s career, which is apparent through much of the songwriting throughout the record. The quartet is battling with emotions from all sides of the spectrum, and much like the rest of us, they are trying to find answers in this technologically-driven, fucked-up world we live in.