There’s a certain preconception towards emo that’s coloured it as the genre to mope around to and little else. Sure, the wave of music considered emo in the mid-2000s didn’t exactly help, nor have the fact that those ideas have been memed within the scene to the degree they have, but it is possible to have positivity within this genre that’s become so known for wanting nothing to do with it. That’s the ethos that Tiny Moving Parts have taken onboard with their sixth album Swell, still focusing on very clear themes of isolation and loneliness, but also paying attention to the positives that may have led to those moments.
That’s a neat idea on paper, one that at the very least views typically downcast subject matter from an angle that’s rarely ever considered, and sure enough, Tiny Moving Parts are able to carry it out for a pretty great album. That’s mainly because Swell is pretty much everything you could want in an emo album – the necessary gusto and open emotion in Dylan Matthiessen’s vocals; surging post-hardcore instrumentation augmented with fragments of a math-rock flourish; and the sort of life-affirming command of melody and choruses that hits the sweet spot and sends Swell hurtling into real greatness.
Of course, Tiny Moving Parts’ approach isn’t really that different from most emo in this vein, but there’s such a richness and depth to this album compared to how frail and skeletal the genre can sometimes feel. Therefore, with the big arena-rock stomp of Malfunction or the strings and synths that back Smooth It Out and Whale Watching perfectly with just that extra touch of polish, this is an album that feels like it comes from its creators pushing themselves, and yet still managing to keep a foot in what feels familiar. That polish never feels too intrusive though; the guitars remain chunky with enough of a solid backbone to them, and there’s some excellent malleability within Matthiessen’s vocals as well, largely sticking in the very thick emo drawl that basically everyone who’s even slightly au fait with the genre is used to now, but unafraid to slip into some harsher shouts now and then like on the opener Applause for an extra jolt of power that really pays off.
But really, what everything of Swell circles back to is that lyrical theme, and even though the lengths that Tiny Moving Parts have gone to to make this as intriguing as possible don’t quite pan out as much as they might’ve liked, it’s still expertly crafted to keep that view of positivity in its peripheral vision. For one, with tracks like Smooth It Out and It’s Cold Tonight as anthemic and triumphant as they are, it amplifies the exuberance that’s already here to enormous lengths. Perhaps even greater is the overall framing, with Matthiessen writing these songs from various smaller perspectives in the world, whether that’s a stray cat on Smooth It Out, a fish swallowed by a whale on Whale Watching, or even a piece of trash at the bottom of a well that falls in love with a coin on Warm Hand Splash. They’re all a bit twee in intention and goofy in execution, but in terms of doing what this album wants to do – highlight small moments of beauty, even on the most mundane things and even for the briefest of moments – these vignettes capture those small, perfectly formed emotions in the best way possible.
It might be a rather unconventional way to view the world, but with a heart as big as the melodies within, Swell finds a way to bury into the subconscious and refuses to leave. Sure, there might be little on the surface that makes it seem all that special, but every listen reveals more and more as to why Tiny Moving Parts really have captured lightning in a bottle here. Emo may have had a stellar year in 2017, but this is the first release this year to suggest that the next twelve months might be in for more of the same.
For fans of: Modern Baseball, The Wonder Years, The Hotelier
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Swell’ by Tiny Moving Parts is released on 26th January on Big Scary Monsters.