I'll be the first to admit that Pop Punk has an almost endless umbrella that dips into many different subgenres ( i.e easycore, surfer/skater punk, emo, ect.) A band that personifies the idea of mixing several different sounds is the up-and-comers Swmrs. Swmrs is from Oakland, California and definitely has that Surfer Punk charm with swinging guitars and easily memorable lyrics. Starting young and having a strong musical support system (we’ll get to that,) these guys are now in their early 20’s but are already making a huge splash all around the american pop punk scene.
I’m not looking to make this a clone of their Wikipedia page but there are a few key points that are worth hitting in the history of Swmrs. The band was originally called Emily’s Army started by drummer Joey Armstrong and guitarist/vocalist Cole Becker. The band was titled after Cole’s cousin Emily who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. Shortly after forming they brought in Cole’s brother Max on bass and later added Travis Neumann in 2009 on guitar. Starting in 2010 they record with Joey’s dad Billie Joe Armstrong. That’s the support system I’m talking about. And I know what you’re thinking, but from what i can tell they didn’t buy their way to success. They can actually jam and work hard on their material. In a lot of ways it reminds me of what Green Day had to go through when the Sex Pistols called them out. Green had trouble being taken as punks when they signed to a major label and Swmrs had to fight past the famous parental shadow looming over them. I think they did that in Spades as they make their own style that doesn’t follow the tracks of Green Day. In 2014 they released their final EP as Emily’s Army, Swim, and switched over to Swmrs as Travis Neumann would exit the band. Max would jump to guitar and Seb Mueller would enter to take over bass. The switch happened to distance themselves from their younger material as they entered young adulthood. With the band reborn as Swmrs they would hit the studio for some EP work before creating the album Drive North.
Drive North is a very interesting project that was produced Zac Carper of Fidlar. If you don’t know who Fidlar is take a look but the best way to describe them would be if surfer rock got really high and was jumping in between these really inspirational and really angry trips. That style of music can be seen throughout this whole record as Cole jumps from very faded, stoned out of your mind vocals to very aggressive yells. You can see this influence early on in the song Miley which was released on an EP before the drop of Drive North. This album is very entertaining but does seem a little bipolar. The reason for this is that Cole and Max swap back and forth on vocals. Both are talented musicians but they have such a drastic difference that it throws you off as a listener. Take the 4th song on the track, Turn Up. This is by no means a bad song. Max is on the lead vocals for this track and it has a very pop rock feel. It’s one of the two songs that I would say stay out of the Punk part of Pop Punk. Again, that is not a negative thing at all but it sits in between two much more aggressive tracks. It feels even weirder coming after the song Miss Yer Kiss, which is feels like a man’s rambles about losing his lover. That’s all fine and dandy but as soon as the track cuts you enter a very upbeat song all about spending time with this punk-perfect crush. The track is very good and pulls you into that mindset only to throw you into Figuring It Out, a jam session about understanding that this generation doesn’t have to have our futures set right out of the gate. As much as I relate to all of the emotions portrayed in each song, you really have to put this album on shuffle. The track positioning could have been better but does not ruin this album by any means. It feels so close to correct with just a few minor hiccups. The albums starts off with arguably the most head banging song Harry Dean. I get images of local scenes gathering for that kickass show the town’s been buzzing about for a month and partying hard enough to kill a few braincells. The following track continues the energy with Brb, probably the most forceful vocals we get from Max on the album. It is definitely lighter but the more spaced out vocals with small pockets of reverb give it a stronger presence and make the chorus more impactful. The tracking takes a small blow here with my previous opinion on Miss Yer Kiss through Figuring It Out. Then comes the only song I’m not sure how I feel about yet. Track 6 is Ruining My Pretending. The mix of whistling, synth drone, and what I can only assume is a xylophone takes you to a weird place. The feel of the song almost creates a subgenre of it’s own and to be honest it would be the only song I would almost designate a “Filler” track. I don’t think it’s awful by any means but I was not a big fan. Credit for not sticking to a cut-and-paste formula but I there are much better written and more involved songs on this album. But have no fear because the rest of this album is paced much better. As we reach the back half of the Drive North we enter what I call the “Fidlar Zone.” The influence is much more apparent here starting with Uncool, a song that kicks you in the teeth. While I feel that the hook of labeling yourself the loser has been done to death, the verses of this track are so much better and the instrumental is a nice fire lit under the album’s ass to get that high energy back. Then Swmrs does one hell of a fake out if you follow in track order. Miley comes out as a drugged out ballad to Miley Cyrus but has the most addicting chorus on this album in my opinion. As weird of a track as this is, it fits in really well with the rest of the tracks including it’s “sister” track coming up. But first we get D’You Have a Car?. This track is quite good but falls into the handful of songs that you can tell were made to be singles, (It, Drive North, and Figuring It Out.) But now we get to the true “ballad” of this LP. Hannah is what I would call the “sister” of Miley for many reasons, obvious and otherwise. Besides the but getting their names from Miley Cyrus, they both have this faded out feel in them that almost resembles a nice high that just lets you sink into the couch and have your mind flow away. I’m glad this song is followed by Silver Bullet because of it’s nice middle ground. It’s not as soft and pop as Turn Up but still keeps the distortion low and gets you lifted up for the bombshell that is Drive North. Swmrs did something a little less common and held the title track until the end of the LP. This loving middle finger to SO CAL is every punk rocker’s anthem for coming from a small music scene and having pride in being more closely associated with each other. This non stop, high energy jam is a great way to close out an album….if it had closed the album that is. You see, Drive North was re released when the band was picked up by Fueled By Ramen in October and tacked two new tracks onto the tail of the album. These two are Lose It and Palm Trees. Palm Trees was supposed to be released on an EP with Silver Bullet way before the album but was pushed back and the EP was shelved. First is Palm Trees, a mixed bag of a song. It has a very simple chorus/chant and feels like a pretty straight forward song until you hear what Cole is almost preaching behind “To the top” and in the bridge before the last chorus. Then you almost see this song as a political rant if not at least an anti corporate song. Finally we get to the true last track of Swmrs inaugural album. Lose It is a gorgeous track about the pain of losing things you truly enjoy when going through a rough breakup. The calming instrumental and gentle vocals blend so well. I wouldn’t consider this the best written song lyrically on the album but they are my favorite lyrics the band had released. There’s something so relatable and mesmerizing in this track that I can’t accurately describe in words. While I liked the idea of ending on a huge jam sesh, getting these two new tracks is well worth the sacrifice. In the end I give Drive North a solid 8/10. There were some stumbles along the way in this album but in an overall view the content is well worth your money and you will not be disappointed with this album. I strongly recommend you pick up a copy and I will be eagerly waiting to see what the band comes out with next.
Written by Max Burch