By Lane Moore, Contributor
Everyone needs to be reminded to “Breathe Deep” once in a while. Everyone wants to “Feel Alive”, and sometimes we just need a reminder of our own worth. For all intents and purposes, this group is the one for those reminders. Tiny Moving Parts is a family band, serving up supercharged Minnesotan math rock from the depths of their young and transparent hearts. With their ridiculous talent and stage presence, the group has made its way out of the void that is Math Rock Obscurity™ and into the alternative limelight. From their humble beginning (A.K.A. a concept record about a family of polar bears) to their latest release, Swell, TMP has a repertoire that is dynamic and ever-changing. The band consists of brothers William “Billy” Chevalier (drums) and Matthew Chevalier (bass guitar, backing vocals) and their cousin, Dylan Mattheisen (lead vocals, guitar). With “fun” being the name of their game, this three-piece makes quite a racket.
In the beginning, there was the aforementioned concept record, Moving to Antarctica. At least that’s what TMP wants us to think, those maniacal bastards. Waves Rise, Waves Recede, The Ocean is Full of Waves is the actual genesis of Tiny Moving Parts as we know them. Self-released in 2008 and cited as “the forgotten record,” Waves Rise, Waves Recede, The Ocean is Full of Waves isn’t just a fistfight of raw emotion, but rather a fistfight between Cap’n Jazz and The Fall of Troy with Dance Gavin Dance as the referee. Seriously, it’s like someone set off an emo/screamo grenade and out came a really sad baby with a ton of potential. Like Jesus. That is how Jesus was born, right? No? Anyway, Moving to Antarctica (2010) followed their debut release. Here, they cut back on delayed guitar, drum machines, and chaos in order to create a more streamlined and cohesive sound.
This sound offers the same amount of chantable lyrics and tappy goodness but with a structure more prevalent throughout its entirety. A degree of experimentation is sacrificed in return for a clear sonic direction. Furthermore, Moving to Antarctica was the stepping stone that allowed the band to progress toward their next record, This Couch is Long and Full of Friendship (2013).
This Couch is Tiny Moving Parts’ last release marked by teenage anxiety and bad haircuts. Thoughtfulness has never been absent from the band’s vernacular, but it is more refined here. Colorful metaphors and scenarios paint themes that are familiar to anyone who has experienced personal suffering. In “Waterbed”, Dylan cries out “People in this world scare me / That’s why I belong underwater / With fish and whales and Dolphins,” solidifying that their hearts have broken and seen the same depths as ours. The boys put their humanity on display and cut it open just so we can find solidarity in knowing what it feels like to be alone.
Following This Couch is their 2014 release, Pleasant Living. Arguably their happiest and most reserved release, Pleasant Living is TMP’s first transition from chaos driven math rock to a sound that is noticeably aligned with indie and pop punk. It punctuates catchy hooks and rhythms with mathy guitarwork, preserving the original spirit of their sound while simultaneously making them “easier to listen to.” This structure is present in all of the existing releases that follow Pleasant Living as well. Of course, Pleasant Living is also the point in which math rock purists (assholes) criticize Tiny Moving Parts for straying too far from their mayhem-infused roots. In spite of this viewpoint, it is sensible to make this assessment: the band’s authenticity never left; they just took what they were doing and gift wrapped it before giving it to us this time.
This concept of contemporization, if you will, is what defines Celebrate (2016), their fifth and defining record. Celebrate officially moved the band to the realm of contemporary emo/screamo, even featuring other artists in the “emo zeitgeist” such as Foxing’s Conor Murphy and Jetty Bones’ Kelc Galluzzo. Yet, all of that pales in comparison to the unthinkable act committed by the band on this record. The songs have . . . choruses. Yeah, it’s wack. More structured and rhythmic than ever, Celebrate’s hooks, riffs, and killer drum fills capture the essence of doubt and agony in a mature and refined manner. It’s clean, it’s contemplative, it’s what they wanted to achieve since their inception in junior high.
Tiny Moving Parts’ signing with Triple Crown Records in 2014 as well as their partnership with producer Greg Lindholm is undoubtedly contributing factors to the progression of the band’s sound. This year, we saw Swell follow in the footsteps of Celebrate’s format, progressing towards indie-emo (God, I hate talking about subgenres) and possessing the seamless production that every artist dreams of. After Swell, math rock purists were again left unsatisfied. They criticized the album for not being “like their old stuff, man.” Whether it’s too polished or merely not to critics’ tastes, Swell, as well as TMP’s entire discography, is an attestation to the group’s ability to mature without expunging their rawness or down-to-Earth personalities. At the very least, critics should give Billy credit for his sweet ass mustache.
Before Tiny Moving Parts were a renowned math rock and screamo outfit, they grew up listening to punk bands like Blink-182. In an interview with Noisey, Billy cites mewithoutYou, Thursday, The Fall of Troy and Tera Melos as influences. He then explains that the former two bands were the inspiration to start “writing crazier stuff” and “hard-to-play stuff after [they]’d done punk rock in the beginning years.” The “hard-to-play stuff” shines on stage, as TMP has a presence that is natural, incredible, and a hell of a lot of fun. When I saw Billy stretching before performing at Spring Fling, I knew it was going to be a show. The sound he describes in the interview is achieved through typical math rock instrumentation: fast-paced guitar tapping and riffs in alternate tunings, wild drums, and bellowing bass tones. Stylistically, Tiny Moving Parts are referred to as emo, pop punk, indie rock, post-hardcore, twinkle daddy and *ahem* math rock.
Each release is riddled with themes of despair, angst and worry; however, these concepts are complemented by a constant emphasis that hope is necessary through it all. Time and time again, the band’s lyrical content reminds listeners to be stouthearted and spirited. Likewise, we are reminded that life is fleeting and we owe it to ourselves to enjoy the little things. Get “stoned in the back of your car.” Watch “a sunset fade into the haze.” Take some time to make yourself “Feel Alive.” There are so many thrills to experience; “life is more than just surviving.”
I’d be lying if I said I’ve never cried to “Waterbed” or “Along the Lakeside” in my car (at least five times). I’d be lying if I said that this band isn’t important to me. When I first discovered Tiny Moving Parts in 2015, they had a message that I needed. Hearing Dylan and Matt shout “And I will be brave all summer long because I, I, got, got, guts” didn’t heal the bruises on my life, but it did help me come to terms with the idea that I could be okay. In short, their uplifting and twinkly jams helped me “be brave.” In their music, Dylan, Matthew, and William dissect adolescence under a magnifying glass that illuminates mortality. Life doesn’t last long, but it is certainly “full of friendship,” or at least a little good. There is always a reason to smile, the headaches will always pass and, even if you feel like “a lost minnow with nowhere to go,” there’s always a home for us all.
Tiny Moving Parts are on tour! Take a look at the dates here.