The twitter hype over the week of BOF [Berkley’s on Fire] generated a hysteria, seeing fans putting up posters asking people to download and stream Berkley’s on Fire when it dropped on 15th February. Forget Valentine’s Day, February 14th was BOF Eve! I for one felt the same way I did on Christmas Eve as a child; excited, unable to sleep and somewhat nervous. Unlike Christmas Eve, I wasn’t worried that Father Christmas wasn’t coming because I had been bad, I was worried it wouldn’t hit as hard as the band’s first album Drive North. Of course, there was no need to worry because SWMRS will never “Lose It”. At the time of writing this, the album is already number 4 in the alternative charts in America and 8th in the UK. I’m predicting a number one from this album which is quintessentially 2019. The album can be summed up as ‘anti-pop’; going against popular music and popular politics. Whether I prefer this album to Drive North, I really can’t decide. I guess I’m still “Figuring It Out” (I promise I’ll stop with the SWMRS puns now).
For those of you who aren’t familiar with SWMRS, get ready to make their acquaintance. SWMRS are an American punk band consisting of Cole Becker, Max Becker, Joey Armstrong and Seb Mueller. They’ve toured with the likes of All Time Low on the Last Young Renegade Tour (Part One). Their first album as SWMRS is the 2016 hit Drive North. If you’re yet to listen to Drive North I would highly recommend ‘Miley’, ‘Lose It’ and ‘Figuring It Out’ which are my personal favourite songs on the album (and probably my favourite songs of all time!). SWMRS are signed with Fueled by Ramen, so if you like other artists signed to this label such as the likes of Panic! At The Disco, Twenty One Pilots, All Time Low, Against The Current and Paramore, it’s well worth checking out SWMRS. The beauty of SWMRS is that they are so involved with their fans, retweeting their praise, asking what they want from the band and meeting up with fans before shows. At this point, Max Becker’s blog Between Stations deserves a special shout out! The boys are genuinely kind people who really care about their fans and it’s exciting to see such a wonderful band grow in popularity. Every SWMRS concert is like a family reunion, but with an awful lot of moshing!
The new album opens with the song ‘Berkley’s On Fire’ which made its UK debut at Reading Festival in 2018. As soon as I put the album on I was transported back to the sweaty
glittery haze of being in a mosh pit at 1 in the afternoon. SWMRS are a band which are all about remembering the moment. When you listen to them you’re transported back to the concert full of fans who feel like family. But the politics of their music solidifies this moment in time, bringing the anger and anguish of America into focus in a unifying and catchy way. ‘Berkley’s On Fire’ captures the essence of the album and explores themes of fake news (“your TV lies”) and the prominent issue of what constitutes free speech. The lyrics to this song are an incredibly powerful fight against the right wing American media and the political lies which people feed upon, reclaiming this idea of ‘fake news’ as lies from those in power.
The whole album’s vibe can be summed up by listening to ‘Lose Lose Lose.’ This song wins best lyric of the album with “2019 is a f**king disaster.” I know we’re only in February, but let’s face it, this sums up how most of us feel when we turn on the TV and see yet another Brexit debate on the news. This song has the shock factor which this album plays upon. The direct address to Putin really shocked me the first time I heard this song, and it left me listening closely to the lyrics and feeling the political message. “Dear Vladimir Putin, stop f**king up my sh*t, ‘Cause I know I can f*ck it up faster” has the power to make you pause the song and just revel in what you’ve heard. Interestingly, Putin is the only person named explicitly on the album, though if you give it a listen you’ll catch the strong anti- Trump tones which began on Drive North (listen out for “There’s a rich man with a spray tan” in ‘Palm trees’) and continue in Berkley’s On Fire. I strongly believe this will continue on every SWMRS album that’s produced whilst the world is in political chaos. Critics of SWMRS say their music is too political, but in saying that they miss the entire essence of SWMRS. Music is a political tool, and to see young people actively criticising the powers that be in the only way available to them is incredibly powerful. SWMRS get across important messages in a memorable way. I think ‘Lose Lose Lose’ is the kind of song future generations will study to get an idea of what 2019 was like politically.
The best thing about this album is that it really captures the feeling of being in your twenties and not knowing your place in the world yet. There’s an attempt to navigate your way to discovering your identity through love and political dissent. In this respect, SWMRS are definitely a band for University students, as I’m sure we’ve all felt this way at some point. ‘Lonely Ghosts’ captures this feeling in a toned down way. This bought back very specific
memories of being at parties as an undergraduate where we argued about politics in the early hours of the morning till our resident tutor came to tell us to keep the noise down! I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where political debate has got a bit heated in the moment. The beauty of the lines “I’m feeling antisocial, Dystopic all around us, Really over being anywhere at all, But I’m scared of drinking alone” captures the liminal position of being in your twenties. You come to a point where you’re over the party phase and socialising becomes a chore, but what else to life is there? The feeling of lacking opportunities for young people propagates this piece. When you’re in your twenties there is this feeling that everything in your life should be together, when the reality is far from this. SWMRS breach that feeling and whilst this song is about the mess of living in the world, it gives a feeling of hope that you’re not the only one who feels like this.
‘Ikea Date’ slows things down and if you’re familiar with Drive North this is the equivalent of ‘Lose It’. ‘Ikea Date’ is one of my favourite songs on the album because of the chilled out vibes. If you’ve ever messed around and picked out a dream home in Ikea with people you love and miss then this is your song. Perhaps it’s quite a niche experience, but doing this with my friends made me really miss them. What makes it better is that I’ll be reunited with these friends at an upcoming SWMRS concert in Camden. This song will be our song. This song stands out on the album, SWMRS just know how to produce love and heartbreak songs which feel raw and real rather than cliché. That takes talent, this song is relatable whilst being niche enough to challenge the popular mainstream heartbreak song.
Musically, the best song has to be ‘Too Much Coffee’ as nothing can top the adrenaline rush from the opening riff. The rhythm really does feel like my heartbeat when I drink too much coffee! If this song makes the tour setlist, I know it’s going to be a crowd pleaser. I love the meta feeling of a song about singing. This one goes out to all the critics of SWMRS who call them too political. This is their song, their project, and they’re going to sing it how they want to. The repetition of “Don’t tell me how to sing this song” in the chorus really hammers this point home. It also makes it the perfect song to sing out of tune in the shower!
My favourite song on the album is ‘Trashbag baby’ and just hearing the opening line “first off I hate you” was enough to solidify this song as the icon of the album. If you’ve ever lived with a couple who are toxic for each other, you’ll relate to this song. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than listening to other people argue, and somehow SWMRS have taken this experience and made it into a perfectly constructed piece of music. The drama of the story is engaging and the rhythm feels like a powerful argument. The band are clever with a question and answer style exchange between the main vocalists which really creates a fun vibe to the song.
The album ends with ‘Steve Got Robbed’ and it really feels like the ending of a brilliant concert. This song goes back to the political feel of the beginning of the album and the cyclical feel gives you an excuse to listen to the album on repeat! The harmony’s in the opening of this song are beautiful and it really feels like a proper closing song. The organisation of this album is perfect at telling a story from politics, to personal tainted by politics, then right back to politics. This is going to be perfect in concert, especially with the encouragement to make the V sign with your fingers. A crowd of people doing that is going to be a powerful symbol of standing against oppressive politics. There are plenty of interesting political ideas in this song, particularly when considering phone hacking and data stealing on social media. Everyone has been robbed of something; privacy, the power to think and the power to act. SWMRS act through their music, and it’s powerful.
I can’t wait to hear this album live to get the full vibe. With SWMRS, your favourite song always ends up being the one that you connect with most when you hear it live. SWMRS are playing in Glasgow on 12th March 2019. As someone who has seen SWMRS four times, trust me, you don’t want to miss this. I’m holding this as alternative album of the year, it’s going to take a lot to top Berkley’s On Fire’.