SWMRS have just dropped Drive North, their first studio album in their current incarnation.
In their previous guise as Emily’s Army, brothers Cole (guitar) and Max Becker (vocals and bass) along with drummer Joey Armstrong, were very much towing the Bay Area punk line, never venturing too far from the Green Day/Operation Ivy sound that defined a (sub) genre. Maybe not so surprising when you consider Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong produced their first two albums (Don’t Be A Dick in 2011 and 2013’s Lost at Seventeen), and also happens to be the father of drummer Joey. After adding Sebastian Mueller on bass and switching Max to lead guitar, they decided to change their name to SWMRS (text-talk for ‘swimmers’, in case you’re wondering). Drive North sees the band trying incredibly hard to establish a sound of their own. The end result is a mix of hits, misses and ‘what the fucks?’ (Or ‘WTF’s?’).
It starts with so much promise. Opening track ‘Harry Dean’ is full of gritty, punk swagger, recalling The Cramps more often than it does Green Day. Followed by the sunnier shade of ‘BRB’, it’s a solid start. The band has given a lot of credit to FIDLAR front man and album producer Zac Caper for the development of their new sound owing as much to work in the studio and post production as it does their songwriting abilities. ‘Harry Dean’ and ‘Uncool’ (track 7) in particular, offer up some of the best examples of when the glitchy, gritty and chaotic production touches work well. However, an over-reliance on production over songwriting will always throw up some stinkers, and there’s a few of them on this album.
‘Miss Yer Kiss’ is the first sign Drive North may be suffering from this lack of focus. Instantly forgettable and horribly vacuous, it’s a song which only sticks in my mind for the fact that they have somehow managed to rhyme ‘kiss’ with ‘tits’. Unfortunately, this lull is repeated a number of times throughout on tracks like ‘Ruining My Pretending’ and ‘Hannah’. I like to think that they decided to include these songs just to prove how good they are at winning you over again. To the rescue come ‘Figuring It Out’, ‘D’You Got A Car’, ‘Uncool’ and the brilliant ‘Miley’, restoring some of that drive and purpose set up so brilliantly at the start of the album.
It isn’t until the final track ‘Drive North’ that we get back to the heights set by ‘Harry Dean’ 11 tracks ago. Max Becker’s final utterance of ‘LA, fuck you’ feels like a punch line to a joke, aimed at anyone who managed to listen to the whole record. Those who safely navigated past the pit falls along the way. Could it be that Drive North is the perfect metaphor for a city that draws you in with so much promise, fucks you about, lets you down but ultimately manages to keep sucking you back in? Maybe that was the joke. Fuck, Los Angeles.
Out now on the bands own label Uncool.
Watch their new video for ‘Figuring It Out’ bellow.
Video directed by Kreayshawn
Photo credit Alice Baxley