Having switched its handle from Emily's Army to SWMRS, this Oakland, California-based band has changed up its sound as well. The tried-and-true Northern California punk revival attack that dominated the band's work as Emily's Army has given way to a cooler sound, more indebted to indie rock and electronics. Drive North was produced by Zac Carper of the band FIDLAR, and he's helped SWMRS rework their approach. Here SWMRS are playing with their rhythms, filtering the vocals, and moving the central focus away from the electric guitars. The foundation of this music is still punk rock. But the arrangements and the production upend the expectations of that generic framework. The music represents a brave move forward. The lyrics, however, are not so innovative. SWMRS are still obsessed with girls, hanging out, San Francisco vs. Los Angeles, and the puzzling formula of coolness. (They do take time to posit that Miley Cyrus is a punk rock queen, a notion seemingly based on style and attitude more than music.) A lot of great punk rock has been based on the notion of a purposefully messed-up sound. SWMRS have taken up this tradition and with Carper's help they've moved it into the post-Pro Tools era, using electronic processing as a way of revising their music and themselves. There are moments when this album's buzzy tone and choppy patterns are honestly exciting and fun. But most of the time, Drive North's surfaces get in the way of the songs, as if SWMRS are trying to become a sort of electro-stoner band that doesn't suit their skill set. Significantly, the two best songs, "D'You Have a Car?" and the title cut, are the simplest, the sound of a punk band letting rip with the amps turned up. Perhaps Drive North represents a bolder new direction, but that doesn't necessarily make SWMRS a better band than they once were.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming