Berkeley’s On Fire
Fueled by Ramen · February 15, 2019
Since the success of their debut album Drive North, SWMRS has taken control of the punk rock scene. Now, with the release of their sophomore album Berkeley’s On Fire, they’re leaning on fans’ support in an effort to evolve their sound. Despite carrying notes of rebellion, the album is more toned down than Drive North and takes on a more deliberate approach with its meaning. In a press release, Cole Becker explains, “When we were writing these songs we were very conscious of our role in creating a space for people to escape from the nonstop negative media cycle.”
In just ten tracks, SWMRS manages to craft an album that demonstrates an array of color and richness. “Berkeley’s On Fire,” the first single they dropped, is emblematic of the project as a whole. The track criticizes negative responses to protesters and riots while in itself being a protest and song. The metallic sounding production, along with Cole Becker’s abrasive voice singing lines like “Too many motherfuckers confusing this freedom speech with swastikas” radiates a rebellious energy that seems to define SWMRS. “Hellboy” also plays with the theme of criticizing the way the country is run and how it ultimately paves the way for mass shootings and gun violence. As the most aggressive song on the album, it’s also the most fun and lively. Cole’s voice once again aptly fits the roughness of the song. Joey Armstrong on the drums creates one of the most ferocious beats I’ve heard, perfectly complementing the track’s gritty production.
What differentiates SWMRS from other punk bands are their more somber songs that show off expert songwriting skills. Max Becker, who sings along with his brother, has a voice made for tender songs like “Bad Allergies” and “IKEA Date,” making Berkeley’s on Fire a showcase in Cole’s impressive vocal range. Both songs stand strong despite their calm nature, making the album feel richer and more dynamic. “April in Houston,” which was written about a train crash that happened near one of their concerts, brings sobering lyrics a contorted production that the album’s more energetic songs pull off so well. The result is a harmonious dichotomy, promoting the range of skill that SWMRS has already proven.
Even though “Berkeley’s on Fire” and “Hellboy” successfully achieve the punk riot style while still maintaining their message, “Lose, Lose, Lose” falls short on this project. The track preaches the same kind of message as the other two, but with lines like “Dear Vladimir Putin, stop fucking up my shit / Cuz I can fuck it up faster,” the track ends up bordering on ridiculous. Considering that this album reflects a more mature version of the band’s songwriting, this felt dissonant to what they were aiming for. While the other songs felt grown up, this felt like an angry teenager that just found out the world isn’t fair. Even “Steve Got Robbed” felt more mature because the lyrics were comical on purpose. Whereas “Lose, Lose, Lose” attempted to make a commentary that resulted in something laughable. Along with this, the song’s glitchy, hip-hop influenced production is a strange pairing with Cole’s distorted vocals.
Berkeley’s On Fire stands as a valiant effort from the band to craft a more mature sound in their discography. Although they do achieve a new level of maturity and provide a unique perspective in punk music, the album feels like it’s trying too hard at times. The songs that impress the most are the ones that radiate a natural confidence that their first album embodied so well. SWMRS does need to be applauded for the perspective the album takes on: one of worldly self-awareness and social consciousness. If they can blend the feeling of Drive North with the meaning of Berkeley’s On Fire, SWMRS will be something the world will remember.