Tiny Moving Parts, a Midwest-emo band out of Minnesota, released their fourth album, “Swell,” on January 26. The band has steadily grown over the years and with each release. Their sound has evolved from jangly emo instrumentals lacking any punch and whiny and grating vocals to a heavier sound, with improved vocals that allow for more emotional expression.
“Swell” is the perfection of the sound Tiny Moving Parts was heading towards. With heavy yet bright tones and chord driven instrumentals, it is similar to their previous album, “Celebrate.” Like most of Tiny Moving Parts’ albums, the content is deeply emotional and raw on a level that most bands don’t achieve.
The album is a strange one, where the lyrics and subjects of each song are heavy while dealing with a lot of self-hate and anxiety. The lead singer, Dylan Mattheisen, sings a lot about loss on “Swell.” Every song, from the first to the last, deals with the loss of a friend, though it’s unspecified whether it was through suicide.
It’s heavily implied that the overall subject of the album is coping with the loss of a close friend of the band to suicide. The song “Malfunction,” towards the end of the second half of the album, seems to deal with the topic the most directly. “I guess I fell behind. The call to stop my friend. It’s a message, it’s a message. The thoughts that fill my head. It’s a message, it’s a message (repeat).” As the song goes on, Dylan’s vocals become rougher and rougher, ending with screams.
Ironically, the song that deals with the album’s subject the most directly has some of the weakest writing; however, this sort of plays in the song’s favor. The death of a friend is a heavy loss, and it affects those grieving in significant ways. It’s hard for someone coping with a loss like that to keep their thoughts straight in their head and can cause them to possibly blame themselves. The song reflects that confusion and self-accusation beautifully. Dylan’s thoughts and feelings aren’t cohesive, and neither is the song.
“Swell” is an album that forces the listener to really think about what’s being said and to look past the energetic and light instrumentals. The lyrics contrast the instruments, but it works in the album’s favor. In a generation where mental health issues are being addressed more seriously in mainstream culture and media, this album gives a raw account of dealing with things like grief, self-hate, self-awareness of our place in the universe and anxiety over the future for ourselves and others.
The album sounds happy enough that anyone who enjoys slightly heavier guitar, driving percussion, vocal harmonies and some intricate progressions could easily enjoy it. For those into more thoughtful lyrics and topics for self-reflection, this album is a treat. It’s my album of the year for 2018.