Album Review: SWMRS – Berkeley’s On Fire

By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor
[Fueled By Ramen; 2019]
Rating 4.5/10

Key tracks: “IKEA Date”, “Bad Allergies”, “Trashbag Baby”

All bands, at some point, need to step out of their comfort zone and find a path to direct their progression. The hardest part, however, is finding a balance in an axis of experimentation and mastery, hitting the sweet spot that complements a band’s style. SWMRS’ made a progressive effort on their latest project, Berkeley’s On Fire, but it’s a vain attempt that underscores the main assets that first put the band in the spotlight.

Read more: Album Review: SWMRS – Drive North

One of the biggest problems with Berkeley’s On Fire is its ineffective use of form and structure. A lot of the songs on the album are too linear, lacking a distinct sense of musical exposition. Tracks such as “IKEA Date” and “Bad Allergies” explore new, untouched territory for SWMRS, with well-executed chord progressions that synergize well with the vocal melodies and the overall structure. But in songs like “April In Houston” and “Lonely Ghosts”, there is little to no anticipation or impulse between the sections, leaving the listener with an insatiable silence by the end of the song.

It is evident that SWMRS pulled their influences from a wide variety of genres with this one; from the psychedelic indie-pop tonalities of MGMT to hook-centered alternative rock in the likes of Blur, Berkeley’s On Fire is diverse but severely lacks focus. Due to the imbalance of mastery in their experimental direction, SWMRS fail to fully commit to that trajectory, which results in a dull, tasteless sound. Why listen to “Trashbag Baby” when you have Two Door Cinema Club? Why listen to “Lose Lose Lose” when Mindless Self Indulgence can do it better and with more edge? Maybe SWMRS should just stick to surfy pop punk.

Though Berkeley’s On Fire is more instrumentally innovative than playing the same four power chords repeatedly, the biggest disappointment is that it seems like SWMRS have forgotten how to write catchy melodies or hooks — the one thing they’ve done right since the Emily’s Army days. On Drive North, the catchiness of their songs adds a lot of replay value despite the simplicity, whereas Berkeley’s On Fire is full of wishy-washy half measures that fall short. Although the album feels incomplete, there is potential to be cultivated in between these fillers. For now, it’s a forgettable record, if anything.

Listen here:

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