Minnesota emo trio Tiny Moving Parts released their latest album, Swell, on January 26th via Triple Crown Records.
Tiny Moving Parts are one of the best bands out there right now—not just in their genre—I mean PERIOD. One only needs to experience their live shows to understand what I mean. I discovered them (after only vaguely hearing about them) as they were opening for The Wonder Years in 2016. Immediately as the noodly opening riff to “Always Focused” began, I knew I was witnessing something special. Vocalist/guitarist Dylan Mattheisen has arguably the best stage presence I’ve ever seen, somehow hitting every note of their extremely technically intricate and difficult songs while moving around and being energetic and belting out every lyric with the same intensity and passion as on their records.
TMP primarily play math-rock influenced Midwest-emo, but they have progressed over time, incorporating several genres in the process of developing their own sound. Their 2013 debut, This Couch is Long and Full of Friendship, was standard Midwest emo-revival, featuring Cap’n Jazz-esque twinkly guitar leads, and the fretboard tapping that has become one of the bands signature qualities. Dylan’s vocal delivery resembled the vocalist for La Dispute (passionate, but very melodramatic and whiny) throughout, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on who you ask. Their second album, Pleasant Living, incorporated more indie-rock influence, with the vocal delivery becoming more varied and melodic, less whiny, yet no less relentlessly emotional. The songwriting improved as well, featuring more developed song structures, and catchy hooks. After I discovered them, they only had their first two (barring underground demos the band has for the most part disowned) records out at the time, and while those records were great and I still to this day listen to and enjoy them, I knew they were capable of even more.
Several months later, they released their third album, Celebrate, which fully realized their potential, and is a classic and has become one of my personal favorite albums period. Incorporating slick, tight production and pop-punk chord progressions might be a sign of regression for most emo bands, but for TMP it represented a step forward, allowing their songwriting to progress, as well as becoming more accessible without sacrificing their instrumental technicality or musical proficiency.
Swell obviously had high expectations from me, but I also was right to assume they weren’t going to deviate much from the formula they perfected on their last record. They went even further into melodic territory, basically, every song on here has an anthemic chorus, and their songwriting is more memorable and tighter than it’s ever been. Essentially, they further refined their sound, which, in my opinion, is the best route they could have taken. While Celebrate had obvious highlights, such as “Birdhouse” and “Common Cold,” this is more consistent throughout, while never really reaching the emotional apex those songs did.
If TMP knows how to do one thing well, it’s open an album, and this one is no exception. “Applause” is energetic, catchy and triumphant despite the lyrics ostensibly dealing with anxiety and coping with the aftermath of trauma. The way Dylan shouts, ‘I WANNA GIVE UP,’ sounds more like a battle cry than a statement of defeat. Single “Caution” is an obvious highlight as well. Opening like a pop-punk song, the tapping leading into the chorus 40 seconds in is where it really picks up. The build-up in the last minute of the song might be the emotional highlight of the album and overall it might be one of my favorite TMP songs.
If there’s one problem TMP has had with the sequencing of their records, it’s putting the best songs in the first half of the album, and that’s not the case here. “Whale Watching” and especially “Malfunction” with the very heavy (in an emotional sense) chord progression in the chorus are both amazing songs, and the closing track “Warm Hand Splash” is probably the best album closer they’ve ever done (okay Van Beers from Pleasant Living might be too but still, both tracks feature horns and it’s done really well, they should incorporate them more often). At 32 minutes, Swell never outwears its welcome, and the replay value is extremely high, as is the same with all their albums.
The main downside of this album and the only major nitpick I really have, is the production. They retained the producer from Celebrate and their debut, so I’m surprised the mix is weak compared to those 2 albums. The guitar sounds quite muffled, and a lot less punchy than usual, it sounds a bit too much like a pop-punk album in terms of production. The slick, clear production from Celebrate is perfect for TMP’s sound and they should have stuck with it.
Aside from that, there really isn’t much to complain about here. I hope they progress further from here and maybe experiment a bit more on their next release, as these guys are all incredibly talented musicians. This didn’t top Celebrate, honestly, but it’s still solidly their second best album and my early front-runner for album of the year. There isn’t a single weak song on here, and, like all their albums, I end up enjoying it more and more with each play. Give Swell a listen if you’re even remotely into emo/pop-punk/guitar-based music in general. And if you get the chance, PLEASE see this band live.
Tiny Moving Parts is currently on tour with Oso Oso and Mom Jeans. Shows are selling out quick, so get your tickets at tinymovingparts.com/tour.