For Fans Of
Last week, while our country saw another Australia Day pass by with the usual amount of BBQ’s, city protests, radio countdowns, and debates raging about the history of it all and changing of the date, Minnesota’s Tiny Moving Parts dropped their fourth record, ‘Swell‘.
Produced by Greg Lindholm and mixed by Vince Ratti, this new album sure is shit a Tiny Moving Parts record! What I mean by that is that ‘Swell‘ has one foot placed on the path of growth and expansion for the band but the other foot leans very hard into the familiar territory of their past three records. From that energetic three-piece sound, the authentic production, vocalist/guitarist Dylan Mattheisen’s biting clean vocals and raw shouts, those anthemic choruses, that combination of math-rock with pop-punk and indie, usual clean guitar chords, arpeggios and those classic Midwest-emo tapping parts (see: Caution‘, ‘Malfunction‘, ‘It’s Too Cold Tonight‘), and the honest, open-diary lyrics that carry genuine silver-linings (see: every single song); this is just business as usual for Tiny Moving Parts.
As such, if you heard 2013’s ‘This Couch Is Long & Full of Friendship‘, 2015’s ‘Pleasant Living‘, and 2016’s rather solid ‘Celebrate‘ (arguably their best record) and am now getting a little weary of this band’s emotive, bright and indeed lush but now borderline stale sound, then you won’t find much in the way of new ideas on ‘Swell‘. Which could either be the winning ticket for your fun-filled ride with this record or the real deal-breaker that makes you turn away at the gates and move onto something else. For me, it’s more the former than the latter, thankfully.
Sure, these guys are nothing if not consistent and their music is goddamn enjoyable to listen to but ‘Swell‘ is just so much more of the same from this Benson trio musically speaking; something that opener ‘Applause‘ proudly announces with its opening riff. However, what really saves this new record from being just another disposable emo release to throw on the ever-growing pile is, as always, the heart and passion on offer in Mattheisen’s personal-but-also-kinda-abstract lyrics, along with some solid emo-pop-punk tunes with strong arrangements to boot.
The previously mentioned album opener ‘Applause‘ is just classic, romantic Tiny Moving Parts through and through – a track meant for those longtime, die-hard fans – and is a solid first track, one that really sets the tone for the record overall. The bright synth melodies and backing strings on ‘Smooth It Out‘ position the band away from the Free Throw and Microwave crowd and places them closer to the likes of Motion City Soundtrack or even Blink-182. Actually, while the band’s emo and indie undertones shine through on this record along with their mathy sections, there’s definitely a far stronger emphasis on being a pop-punk band on ‘Swell‘ (as splitting genre hairs as that sounds), and ‘Wishbone‘ is a great example of that stylistic distinction. Those stomping, mid-tempo instrumental crashes on ‘Wildfire‘ and the larger melodies, faster-pace and sharp instrumentation on ‘Whale Watching‘ expand the trio’s DIY basement show sound onto the biggest of stages without losing any of their soul. The same can be said for a later song like ‘Malfunction‘, which has a more ambitious sense of space whilst also harkening back to an early 2000’s emo sound; the kind that Vans Warped Tour once played major host to in the “good old days”.
With maybe the exception of ‘Applause‘, lead single Caution‘ is hands down the most quintessential Tiny Moving Parts track of the whole lot and one of the best songs on the entire record as well. It’s simply just the most potent confluence of the trio’s various (tiny) moving sonic parts as a tightly wound unit. Likewise, closer ‘Warm Hand Splash‘ is another standout moment too, with its shuffling, infectious chorus and heartfelt lyrics of finding love amongst a wilderness of isolation and loneliness. (I found that this album’s cover artwork is the best metaphorical embodiment of that idea of trying to feel alive: still finding a reason to smile and have fun – the care-free, loosey-goosey hand sign – despite all of the apparent wounds and lingering pain being present – the stitches, the missing finger and the broken cigarette). Plus, the mourning twinkle trumpet in the song’s slower outro was a nice closing touch and takes cues from those classic American Football tracks of old as well as that of the jazzy new scene heroes, People Like You. (Jesus Christ, what a fucking band).
So yes, there isn’t really a bad song on this record. It’s just that I’ve heard so many similar sounding songs from Tiny Moving Parts over the years that some of these tracks don’t quite have the lasting impact they would’ve had otherwise. That being said, the three band members themselves are still at the top of their game; still in the golden years of their songwriting prowess.
Mattheisen’s guitar playing is as technical, as riff-centric and as effective as ever here (see the wicked tapping across ‘Caution‘ and the main riff in ‘Wishbone‘) and his guitar work here really drives these ten songs forward. Of course, the frontman’s lyrics are still riddled with teenage-angst – something I don’t think he’ll ever drop from his lyrical modus operandi – but they now contain these life-affirming cues of breaking the bullshit of everyday monotony and finding happiness in the smallest of things; in finding real comfort in the smallest of victories. And that then translates to the music itself too. Even if it is all getting very repetitive for my tastes. Elsewhere, the rhythm section of brothers bassist Matthew and drummer Billy Chevalier (who are also cousins of Mattheisen) are as tight as ever and their performance chemistry hasn’t faltered at all. In fact, I think that the shared bloodline connection within this band is what helps makes the group’s songs work so well at times; they’re all so in-sync with each other, from the music they create together to the very blood they share in their respective veins. With that already present chemistry, and with some different ideas and new sounds in the mix, Tiny Moving Parts could go well beyond where they now stand and onto greener, lusher musical pastures.
Despite being a solid and enjoyable album, ‘Swell’ really is just more of the same from this Minnesotan emo-pop-punk-indie trio. But honestly, that’s more than fine as Tiny Moving Parts’ sound hasn’t lost its charm just yet. But if we see another record like this down the line from them? Well, that may be when the diminishing returns here really start to kick in.
- Smooth It Out
- Feel Alive
- Whale Watching
- It’s Too Cold Tonight
- Warm Hand Splash
‘Swell’ is out now via Triple Crown Records. Check out one of my favourite songs from the record below: