ALBUM: “breathe” by Tiny Moving Parts
RELEASE YEAR: 2019
LABEL: Hopeless Records
RATING /10: 8
BEST TRACKS: “Medicine”, “Vertebrae” and “Soft Spot”
FCC: explicit language
Tiny Moving Parts’ album “breathe” was released in September 2019 and it has become a classic Midwest emo album in my eyes ever since. The band’s style is a blend of math rock, emo and pop-punk, and it’s moving further away from typical Midwest emo with each album. The cathartic release found in their previous albums “Swell” (2018) or “Pleasant Living” (2014) is still at the core of their song-writing, but this time with the “mindset to keep powering through”. Lead singer Dylan Mattheisen’s experimental screaming mixed with his emotional singing, the insanely good guitar riffs and the powerful drums rhythms: everything about this record makes for a refreshing dose of Midwest punk music. Dylan is scared of death, struggles with anxiety and heartbreak all at once — and each of his personal struggle is reflected in his lyrics. The title of this album couldn’t have been more on point. Sometimes, his breathlessness is a metaphor for drifting apart from his lover: “I tried to breathe in our love / Ended up coughing blood” (“Vertebrae”). When he’s not having his heart broken, he’s asking his lover to become one with him: “Let’s breathe each other in.” (“Soft Spot”)
Dylan feeling powerless in his own body is another recurring theme through the album. In “Medicine”, the most famous single off the album, he sings: “I swear my legs, they function / But I’m assembled to crawl”, which is similar to the lyrics in “Vertebrae”: “My trembling vertebrae is bound to snap / Never helped me stand up straight”. In “Bloody Nose”, he describes a scene where his nose starts bleeding in the shower, and he thinks he’s about to die. I know, not the happiest song you could ever think of, but I promise the album is not as dark as it seems. “All I could think, my insides gave up, they’re ready to go / I’m not ready to go I wanna live forever, I’m not ready to go”. You’d have to be very scared of your own mortality and fragility as a human being to jump directly to the conclusion that a bloody nose means imminent death, but I’m absolutely not here to judge. As powerless as Dylan feels most of the time, he wishes to be saved as much as he wishes to be loved. When he sings “I can’t do this alone / Someone please open the door” in “Icicles (Morning Glow)”, or “I want to exist in your heart just a little bit” in “The Midwest Sky”, you can tell that his screams perfectly mirror his hurt and confused internal state. What I like about this album is that it recounts very accurately the duality of mental health struggles, which affect equally both the mind and the body.
The only breath of fresh air that Dylan can truly hope to access is through nature: “I want to seek some unforeseen color / Please get me outside with sunlight / Reflecting off a waterfall” (“Medicine“), but sometimes even nature won’t cooperate: “I want to jump off of this bridge / Headfirst into the water and swim / But this lake is clearly frozen” (“Vertebrae”). There are many references to the tundra and to Midwest on the album — the first song on the album is literally called “The Midwest Sky” — and they seem to be at the core of Dylan’s inspirations. I like that the band is taking their Midwest origins so seriously and turning them into poetic metaphors that make for very inspiring lyrics.
Dylan’s vulnerability when it comes to his mental health struggles is just another example of why I’ve always found comfort in emo and punk music in general, because the song-writing is often so raw, vulnerable and dark, no matter the exact genre or melody. As someone who used to struggle with mental illness a lot, I relate to this album on a very deep emotional level. “breathe” is already a classic in my eyes, and I’m glad the band was able to sign to Hopeless Records (one of my favorite pop-punk labels) in 2019 to make this album. Tiny Moving Parts were supposed to play at Cat’s Cradle on Mar. 25, 2021 in Raleigh — needless to say that I can’t wait for venues to reopen, so I can see them play the album live.
— Lise Nox