SWMRS were bred in the heart of the San Francisco Bay punk scene. In fact, drummer Joey’s father is none other than Green Day front man, Billie Joe Armstrong. With that kind of lineage, there was a lot expected from the quartet on their debut.
Drive North is a mixture of surf-punk angst and sleek pop studio production. When the boys are up, they are way up. Take album opener, ‘Harry Dean’. It is bombastic, in your face, and completely unapologetic. The distorted guitars and raw vocals of Cole Becker melt your face and give you a sucker punch for good luck. While their first single, ‘Figuring It Out’ is more polished and has a chorus designed to be an anthem, it still is rooted in punk. The staccato guitars and propulsive bass and drums aim for more modern pop-punk. But again, the flippant, snarky vocal stylings of Cole bring it all back to their roots.
Then there’s ‘Miley’. It is a clear cut ode to the new queen of eccentricity, Miley Cyrus. On it, they sing about how Miley is a punk-rock queen. While older generations may question the integrity of the band calling Miley punk rock, they forget what punk is rooted in: anti-everything. Punk is tricky because while it is a musical genre, it truly can’t be defined by a particular sound. Punk is a state of mind. And SWMRS show a maturity in their understanding of this- even if it is wrapped in a package only teens and young adults will get.
And while there is plenty of grit, there are moments that take you by surprise, two tracks in particular. Both are sung by guitarist Max Becker. The first is ‘Turn Up’. It has pep, pop aesthetic, and an undeniable catchiness. The band as whole also showcases their artistic reach. The drums have a ‘50s inspired 4/4 that pair with the walking bass line. The guitars also aren’t distorted which adds a refreshing take. And on ‘Ruining My Pretending’, it borrows more from alt-pop and shows what the boys can accomplish in the studio. If this song was played with no context of who was playing, it would be difficult to tell it was SWMRS. And that is not a bad thing. It is a sign of maturity in sound. They are able to pull from their roots while not being afraid to step into other genres.
While there are high points, there is a glaze that sits a little heavy over the album, production wise. Zac Carper of FIDLAR produced the album. And while everything is sleek and comes through clearly, the angst and grit can’t rely on the lyrics alone. Anyone who has seen them live knows it is D from the first guitar strum to the last drum kick. The DIY aesthetic that is rampant in their shows and gets the blood boiling is not as apparent in the studio versions. Yes, the recordings are meant to be the idealized state of a song, but it’s hard to imagine people moshing to the entire record. Yet, somehow, onstage they get that energy and exuberance across.
But, Drive North is still a great debut album by a fresh, young band. And while they may have a burning hatred for LA (listen to album closer ‘Drive North’), it hasn’t stopped those in the heart of the music industry from taking notice. They’ve toured with WAVVES, played Beach Goth 4, Uncool Fest, and are going on their first US headlining tour. It’s only a matter of time before SWMRS becomes a household name.
(by Ian Hays)