February 12, 2016 SWMRS – Drive North (Album Review)
Previously known as Emily’s Army, Californian Punk band SWMRS (pronounced “swimmers”) formed twelve years ago in 2004 when Frontman/Guitarist Cole Becker and Drummer Joey Armstrong were just nine years old. Cole’s eleven-year-old bass-playing brother, Max, joined on soon after. The boys decided to start a band after watching Jack Black’s 2003 love song to Rock-n-Roll, School of Rock. Their first EP, Goody Two Shoes, was released in 2009, an album that got them some well-deserved attention and a spot on the stage at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, California in November of 2010, making them the youngest artists ever to be granted the honor of playing this stage. It was then that they added Rhythm Guitarist Travis Neumann to their crew. Their debut full-length album, 2011’s Don’t Be a Dick, was produced by Joey’s father, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, and released through Adeline Records. In response to Neumann’s decision to leave the band in 2014, Bassist Sebastian Mueller joined up, allowing Max to switch to lead guitar. The band’s longest running name, Emily’s Army, was chosen to honor Max and Cole’s cousin, Emily, who had been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, but changed their tag to Swimmers – stylized as SWMRS – in 2014. The first album under the band’s new name, Drive North, is set to be released on February 16, 2016 through their own label, Uncool Records, and is the first of theirs not to be produced by the Green Day frontman.
Five of the records’ twelve songs were released as singles before the album officially hit the shelves: “Silver Bullet” on February 5, 2015, “Miley” and “Uncool” on September 8, 2015, “Figuring It Out” on November 7, 2015, and “Drive North” on January 29, 2016. The record kicks off with the drum heavy, old school Punk song “Harry Dean,” a short and quick version of the seventeen-minute-long “Like Harry Dean Stanton” that was written for Hedi Slimane’s Surf Sound campaign for St. Laurent’s Spring and Summer of 2016. “Brb” has an almost Beach Boys sound to it, with Max strumming along to Cole’s surfer dude vocals, a simply sweet song, although there are a few jarring, misplaced notes about a minute in. The boys pull it back a bit for “Miss Yer Kiss,” a slower, twisty track with just a sprinkling of Reggae, with a song that draws out and stretches like salt water taffy. Things turn back to Pop for “Turn Up” with its acoustic, beachier sound, then slide over to memories of High School football games and cheerleader drumbeats with the uplifting, peppy “Figuring It Out.” “Ruining My Pretending” has a spacey, tinkling chorus with a rather random whistling throughout. Although “Uncool” is heavier than most of the other songs on the album, it has a surprisingly upbeat sound with catchy vocals.
Probably the only song that is or ever will be written about former child star turned sexed up button pusher Miley Cyrus, “Miley” is a love Ballad to the blonde Punk Rock queen. “D’You Have A Car?” leaves Pop behind for a heavier, more solid Rock sound, while “Silver Bullet” comes off as rather one note and bland with strange, stilted stops dropped randomly throughout. “Hannah” is sure to be many listeners’ favorite from the album and channels Ezra Koenig as well as the boys of Vampire Weekend in a slow, dreamy song that pings the heartstrings. The last track, “Drive North,” is a great throwback to the Lo Fi Punk of the ‘70s and early ‘80s as Cole blasts every Southern Californian city in favor of the less populated North.
SWMRS’ official third album, Drive North, has a lot going for it. Its many sounds and textures are a real pleasure to listen to, either on the way to the beach or while plowing through snowdrifts in a 4X4. It is as if Weezer and Green Day had a baby and then bounced its rubber baby buggy bumpers down the stairs and into a bright, sunny afternoon. It is amazing to think that a few of these boys are not even old enough to walk into a bar but have already made such a strong impact on the Neo Pop Punk scene. Their sound is young, but deep, a combination sure to bring them fans from both older and newer Punk Rockers alike. CrypticRock gives Drive North a 3.5 out of 5 stars.