Despite being bruised, stitched, and severed, the hand that adorns the cover of Tiny Moving Parts’ fourth LP, Swell, is still just trying to hang loose. That image is probably the most accurate summary of the Minnesota trio’s music. After garnering a dedicated fanbase with their first two releases, the band received more attention with their very solid 2016 album, Celebrate. Two years later, Tiny Moving Parts is back with their most consistent work yet, a sizzling ten track album that flawlessly blends the ethos of midwest emo with the energy of contemporary pop-punk.
Swell is frenetic from the very start, as opener “Applause” explodes behind Dylan Mattheisen’s charging, intricate riffs. Big choruses and soaring bridges burst throughout with contagious energy, with the occasional synthesizer or trombone thrown in the background for a little extra punch. It’s reminiscent of Tell All Your Friends – those dramatic moments emphasized by synth flourishes and sleek keyboard melodies (the urgent “Smooth It Out” and the bombastic “Whale Watching” are prime examples). First single “Caution” is dynamic in a way that recollects memories of the band’s first album, while the blistering “Malfunction” features some of Mattheisen’s best tapping to date.
In fact, his guitar work is thoughtful on each track – no wasted movements – pulsating seamlessly with backbone of the record, the brotherly rhythm section of Matthew and Billy Chevalier (bassist and drummer, respectively). Billy turns in some of the best drumming you’ll hear in 2018, the frantic pace providing Swell with that extra gusto some of these second-wave emo albums are missing – enabling Tiny Moving Parts to stand apart from some of the meandering Hotelier-wannabes that’ve popped up in recent years.
Thematically, Swell is a journey towards being the best person you can possibly be, a struggle Mattheisen acutely encapsulates throughout the record. There are flashes where Mattheisen is all about seizing the day, and then there are the instances of regret and failure – with both feelings appearing simultaneously at times. On the bittersweet “Wildfire,” Mattheisen goes from bold confidence (“Someday we’re all going to die/But not tonight!”) to the devastating idea that his partner wishes he was no more (“I think you wish I wasn’t around anymore/I think you wish I passed in a crash of some sort.”). Swell is littered with silver linings, introspection, and the every day triumphs and sorrows within everyday relationships. Those feelings are still presented in a way that’s life affirming instead of being drowned out by overwhelming sadness, the ebb and flow of “It’s Too Cold Tonight” portraying these very conflicts.
It all comes to head on the emotionally charged closer, “Warm Hand Splash,” a track balancing between strength and fragility in which Mattheisen – envisioning himself as the trash that lines the bottom of a wishing well – pleads for one more chance, one more time to get it right. It’s a flurry of blind optimism before realizing that that prospect has passed by, as a somber trombone plays the album out.
Ultimately Swell is about chasing your bliss regardless of what’s standing in the way. The penultimate track “Wishbone” has Mattheisen basically screaming the album’s manifesto (“May your brain cells swell/with love, love, love”) – a cry that, despite whatever obstacle presents itself, they’ll always hope for the best.