ALBUM REVIEW: SWMRS – Berkeley’s On Fire

Release Date: February 15th 2019
Label: Fueled By Ramen


Californian punk four-piece SWMRS have been going strength to strength with each release, building a sound that’s recognisably their own. The melding of punk, surf rock, and a strong The Beach Boys influence has paid off with ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’, the third release from the young group.

Opening with the title-track, angular chords lay the foundation for twisting buzzsaw guitars from Cole Becker and Max Becker respectively. Taking cues from The Clash and Operation Ivy, the two take turns in spitting out rapid fire vocal lines alongside Joey Armstong‘s bouncing drum beat. The track itself is technically simple, with the same motif being its focal point, but by playing with vocal trade-offs and displaying strong hooks, it opens the record on a strong note.

Taking influence from Weezer and Nirvana in equal measure, the songs don’t attempt to cram additional notes or fills for the sake of it. The record’s strengths lie in its strong melodies, dynamic changes, and its political commentary that resonates throughout its runtime.

‘Trashbag Baby’ strengthens the group’s distinctive sound. Filled with an infectious riff, cutting acoustic chords, and even more vocal trade-offs, the track imbues a punk grit throughout. From Seb Mueller‘s driving bass line to the converging motifs that dominate its bridge, it just doesn’t give up.

As the record progresses, it becomes apparent that SWMRS are at ease in switching between punk rock and power pop, with ‘April In Houston’ in particular taking a laid back and gentle approach. The track works around the lyrical narrative, providing space and tension to navigate the melodies on display.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘Hellboy’ rips through jagged guitars and pounding drums at a gleeful pace. Granted, the track relies on back and forth vocal melodies, but with an urgent energy throughout, it doesn’t matter.

‘Bad Allergies’ provides a bit of a change, and delves into dream pop territory. Focusing on shifting elements and a revolving melody, it’s dynamically rich and harmonically strong.

Whilst the record may have its moments where experimentation doesn’t always work, for the most part ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’ provides a memorable listen. Instead of trying to use everything at their disposal, SWMRS have honed their compositional skills and created a record that should push them further into public view.