SWMRS “Berkeley” is ‘Lukewarm’
By Oscar Yanek
SWMRS is a new-age punk/surf rock band from Oakland, California. The artists are best known for their energetic power punk jams off of their popular 2016 album “Drive North.” Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the band; the group was one of my most played artists in 2018 and I have tickets for their spring show. This is why I am sad to say that SWMRS’ fourth studio album “Berkeley’s On Fire,” released Feb. 15, is painfully average.
In the weeks leading up to the release of the new album, two preview tracks were dropped called “Trashbag Baby,” and “April in Houston.” Both seemed very promising, with “Trashbag Baby” capturing the care-free, upbeat SWMRS vibe perfectly. But, with the release of the album, the full picture becomes fairly disappointing. With only 10 songs (nine if you take out the lead single, “Berkeley’s On Fire,” which had already released last summer), the new album is four songs shorter than “Drive North.” The length of an album is not usually an issue for me, especially if the songs have the same replay value as those on "Drive North." But at just 10 songs, "Berkeley's on Fire" still contains as many filler songs as a longer album, with half the songs falling flat.
Despite this, the album is not bad by any stretch. When taken at face value, the album is okay. Only when you take into account the drop in quality from the previous album does “Berkeley’s On Fire” feel like a slap in the face. Right now, I have saved two of the 10 songs to my own personal playlist and listen to those two on a daily basis, compared to the 13 of 14 songs that I listened to for months on repeat from “Drive North.”
After listening through the album around five times, the songs that I enjoyed were “Berkeley’s On Fire,” “Trashbag Baby,” and “Hellboy.” The songs I that thought were average were “Steve Got Robbed,” and “April in Houston.” I did not enjoy the songs “Too Much Coffee,” “Lose Lose Lose,” “Lonely Ghosts,” “IKEA Date,” and “Bad Allergies.” This latter group of songs felt too alternative and indie. Older SWMRS tracks rely on loud drums, catchy hooks, and energetic guitar riffs to create their atmosphere, which nearly every song on this album seems to lack (besides “Hellboy” and maybe “Trashbag Baby”).
The songs play through the entire two to four minutes with every 45 second chunk just as slow and uninteresting as the last. That being said, I do not particularly dislike slower SWMRS; “Hannah” is one of my favorite songs in general, and despite being the slowest song on “Drive North,” it still has SWMRS’ signature style and clear progression. The song goes somewhere and does not always sound like it did in the first 20 seconds of build up. So many of the SWMRS’ new tracks fall into this pitfall and slip by in your queue completely unnoticed.
When rating this album out of 10, I look directly to the tracklist. For every good song, the album earns 1 point, and for every “okay” song it receives .5. That would put “Berkeley’s On Fire” at a 4/10, a score the band does not deserve. It is not enough to break my trust in SWMRS, but I am anxious to see how their next project turns out.