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Alternative & Indie - Released February 15, 2019 | Fueled By Ramen

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Bay Area punk outfit SWMRS make a significant advance in their maturation with their second set for Fueled by Ramen, Berkeley's on Fire. While retaining the D.I.Y. spirit and snotty attitudes from their earlier days as Emily's Army, the quartet borrow from the early-2000s garage rock and post-punk revivals, swapping between cool grooves and jangly bounce like U.K. contemporary Rat Boy. With Rich Costey (Muse, Mew) at the helm, production has improved, the songwriting is tightened, and the taut runtime delivers a brisk, refreshing listen. Much of the album's charm lies in frontman Cole Becker's vocals, which affect an irresistible Joe Strummer/Tim Armstrong slack-jawed drawl. Even when he's singing -- as on the sweet "Ikea Date" and the Vines-esque "Bad Allergies" -- SWMRS still sound like youthful punks searching for meaning in a messed-up world. That world is targeted in classic punk fashion throughout, with the boys -- guitarist Max Becker, drummer Joey Armstrong, and bassist Seb Mueller -- taking aim at U.S. politics, societal woes, and capitalist evils, summed up in the thumping "Lose Lose Lose" with the proclamation that "2019 is a fucking disaster." Other standouts include the jangly bopper "Trashbag Baby," the new wave bounce "Too Much Coffee," and the gritty "Lonely Ghosts," which adopts an air of '90s alterna-cool. While their entire catalog is worth a listen -- from the no-frills punk of their first two efforts to 2015's Drive North -- Berkeley's on Fire feels different, like a band that's hitting their stride with a catchy blend of punk-indebted styles delivered with the conviction of a more seasoned act. ~ Neil Z. Yeung
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 14, 2016 | uncool records - Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 15, 2019 | Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 14, 2016 | uncool records - Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released August 17, 2018 | Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 28, 2018 | Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released January 14, 2019 | Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 15, 2019 | Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released August 17, 2018 | Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 15, 2019 | Fueled By Ramen

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 14, 2016 | Atlantic Records

Having switched its handle from Emily's Army to SWMRS, this Oakland, California-based band has changed up its sound as well. The tried-and-true Northern California punk revival attack that dominated the band's work as Emily's Army has given way to a cooler sound, more indebted to indie rock and electronics. Drive North was produced by Zac Carper of the band FIDLAR, and he's helped SWMRS rework their approach. Here SWMRS are playing with their rhythms, filtering the vocals, and moving the central focus away from the electric guitars. The foundation of this music is still punk rock. But the arrangements and the production upend the expectations of that generic framework. The music represents a brave move forward. The lyrics, however, are not so innovative. SWMRS are still obsessed with girls, hanging out, San Francisco vs. Los Angeles, and the puzzling formula of coolness. (They do take time to posit that Miley Cyrus is a punk rock queen, a notion seemingly based on style and attitude more than music.) A lot of great punk rock has been based on the notion of a purposefully messed-up sound. SWMRS have taken up this tradition and with Carper's help they've moved it into the post-Pro Tools era, using electronic processing as a way of revising their music and themselves. There are moments when this album's buzzy tone and choppy patterns are honestly exciting and fun. But most of the time, Drive North's surfaces get in the way of the songs, as if SWMRS are trying to become a sort of electro-stoner band that doesn't suit their skill set. Significantly, the two best songs, "D'You Have a Car?" and the title cut, are the simplest, the sound of a punk band letting rip with the amps turned up. Perhaps Drive North represents a bolder new direction, but that doesn't necessarily make SWMRS a better band than they once were. ~ Mark Deming