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Oakland’s SWMRS Make the Bay Area Proud with Urgent New Album ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’ (New Music Friday)

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Berkeley’s On Fire, the new album from Oakland’s SWMRS, was released on Friday — and it’s the sort of record that will stick with you long after its 10-song, 33-minute run time runs its course.

The band, releasing its second album under the name SWMRS and fourth overall, dating back to its early days as Emily’s Army, has put together a collection of irreverent and eccentric music that dabbles in pop-punk, surf rock, alt/rock and other hyphenate sub-genres, all the while retaining a sound that is fiercely original and endlessly engaging.

Listening to the record, it’s hard not to think of the Matches, fellow East Bay indie/punks who blazed their own trail in the early to mid-2000s with a smiliar “we’re going to do what we want, whether you like it or not” approach.

Opening with the album’s title track, the record grabs you from the get-go, vocalist/guitarist Cole Becker leading the charge with authority:

SWMRS’ drummer is Joey Armstrong, son of Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong, who co-founded the band with Becker in 2004. This close connection with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees initially gave SWMRS a bit of attention in its own right, but let’s get one thing clear: Their music speaks for itself.

“Too Much Coffee,” which follows the new record’s title track, features a lead riff reminiscent of many things at once, but it’s hard to pin them down. Hand claps, shimmery guitar playing and quirky verse structure makes the song an easy standout on the record, and a solid representation of the band’s songwriting approach:

“Trashbag Baby” comes next, with both Beckers (Cole on rhythm guitar and brother Max on lead guitar) sharing vocal duties. The guitars on this one almost have a quality that call to mind a revved-up version of the Cure. It’s a toe-tapper of a song, to use a slightly trite line:

There’s a snarly defiance to SWMRS music that comes across strongly on Berkeley’s On Fire. These gentlemen definitely know what they’re trying to accomplish with their music, and it shows. What helps set them apart from other “punk” bands of the current scene is their willingness to take chances and blend styles, and also work in verses with lines such as “2019 is a fucking disaster, dear Vladimir Putin, stop fucking up my shit because I know I can fuck it up faster,” as they do on “Lose Lose Lose.”

Despite using a cliche earlier, it’s time for another one: We need bands like SWMRS these days, and they really came into their own with Berkeley’s On Fire. It’s high-energy, it’s danceable, it’s memorable, and it’s sure to strike a chord in the music scene.

Stream the record below, via Spotify:

Visit the band’s official site for full touring details, as they’ll be on the road for a while supporting the album.

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