SWMRS – Berkeley’s On Fire

Inclusive, fresh and never not exiting.
Label: Fueled By Ramen
Released: 15th February 2019
Rating: ★★★★

It’s hard to escape it, a lot of rock music feels like it’s stuck in a time warp. Not just stylistically – though there’s a more than persuading argument to suggest it is – but in its attitudes too. While traditional rock star tales and backstage behaviour may finally be seen as unacceptable, it’s a genre where many of the biggest names are still an overhang from an era that, to put it politely, didn’t have the values young people today may wish to hold their idols to.

To claim a group consisting of four men is a breath of fresh air might be a stretch – rock is a genre still way too obsessed with masculinity – but SWMRS feel like something different. From a ‘zine given away at shows promoting safe spaces (“Pro tip: Abusers of all kinds – you should leave now, or you will be subject to severe punishment”) to tweets asking fans to stop them and say hi (“getting to shake your hand and know about you is a highlight”), they’re not a band chained to the old ways either.

What does this have to do with the music? Beyond the fact that separating art from the people behind it really doesn’t work, this is a band with far more than just words. Rarely found ploughing out earnest platitudes, ‘Berkley’s On Fire’ possesses an energetic freshness that swings open the doors to their big tent mentality. Inclusive, fresh and never not exiting, above and beyond anything else it’s almost impossible not to love SWMRS.

And when we say love, we mean fall. Hard. While previous album ‘Drive North’ was a pouch of fizzing candy dropped into a sugary soda, ‘Lose Lose Lose’ is Mentos in Diet Coke levels of explosive. “2019 is a fucking disaster,” it proclaims, rattling along the tracks at a breakneck pace. Every picture is painted in bright, rainbow colours, stuck together with scrappy paper and glue. ‘Too Much Coffee’ is defiant but melodic, while ‘Hellboy’ audibly rumbles. SWMRS’ brand of hedonism may have some of the pointiest corners rounded off, but only the ones that didn’t care for what harm they’d do to others.

While they may not be able to answer all of rock’s most difficult questions by themselves, that doesn’t mean SWMRS don’t have some of the solutions. Open, caring and considerate, sure, but also more than aware that doesn’t stop us having a great time too; by the time rock finally fully embraces the present, it’ll be grateful for bands like SWMRS – and the future creations of the creative, progressive fanbases that spring up around them – to point it towards a better future.

Stephen Ackroyd

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