On Heart Murmurs, Jeremy Messersmith can break your heart one minute, and then put those fragile pieces back together again the next. The Minneapolis singer/songwriter candidly chronicles the ups and downs of modern relationships, all within the simple but striking constructs of his indelible, poignant pop songs. On his assured and expansive fourth full-length album, Messersmith moves past the existential, death-laden themes of his 2010 breakthrough, The Reluctant Graveyard, to focus instead on the broad topic of love and the eternal affairs of the heart. And this polished, impassioned new batch of songs represent another confident artistic step forward in Jeremy’s flourishing career.
The 11 tracks that comprise Heart Murmurs, Messersmith’s debut release for Glassnote Records, have been slowly gestating over the past few years, gradually taking on a spirited life of their own like any proper romance. Messersmith drew inspiration for his new album from the Magnetic Fields’ brilliant magnum opus, 69 Love Songs, while also realizing that more than enough pop songs about love have already been written. But Jeremy provides a fresh new twist on those familiar themes of affection and anguish, with an emotional vulnerability that will resonate with anyone who has ever once shared their heart with another.
The record bursts out of the gates with the swelling, exultant hooks of the Elliott Smith-esque “It’s Only Dancing,” and the pulsating lead single, “Tourniquet,” getting the listener’s attention straight from the start and never relinquishing it throughout the entirety of the perfectly paced album. And while these songs typically feature buoyant, effortlessly catchy melodies, the lyrics themselves explore much darker themes, providing a brooding, mercurial contrast to the tracks upbeat arrangements.
“I generally like to balance out the bitter and the sweet in my songs,” Messersmith explains. “The happier something is musically, the darker it can be lyrically — you can kind of sneak it in there. And that’s a little more appealing to me. In order to have a big hook — and I was trying to write some of them about as big as I can make them — I tried to do most of the lyrical heavy lifting in the verses and bridges, and worked hard to earn those hooks.”
The hooks throughout Heart Murmurs are indeed quite massive and relentlessly catchy, with acoustic and electric guitars blending elegantly with spiraling string arrangements and other sonic flourishes. It’s the sound of an artist not afraid to go big in order to be heard, while also packing plenty of evocative substance within these soaring pop songs as well.
Messersmith’s distinctive style and sound has gotten the attention of many prominent music fans over the years, including Jim McGuinn, the Program Director at Minnesota Public Radio’s the Current, a radio station that has championed Jeremy’s songs from the moment he first dropped off his debut album to the studio wrapped unassumingly in a brown paper lunch bag.
“The feelings in Jeremy’s songs are visceral, relatable. He reminds us of our humanity. And he always has,” McGuinn warmly explains. “There are loads of artists that record sweet indie pop. But one of the things that helps Jeremy stand out is the twinge of darkness or melancholy in his songs. Sometimes those feelings are overt, and sometimes we see it but the characters do not. Everyday we see our friends headed towards some kind of failure big or small, but we’re often powerless to talk them out of it, to help them, to stop the reality from occurring. It’s tragic, and it’s real. And those kernels of heartbreak separates Jeremy from the pack.”
On the mournful “Bridges,” Messersmith sings plaintively, “Even though I love you, I break you like a promise,” touching on a theme that courses through much of the record — hurting the ones you love the most despite, or perhaps because of, your best intentions. But there is hope involved in those stark revelations as well, with characters working through past and present mistakes in order to finally become worthy of the love they have around them.
These are heady, substantial ideas to inject into pop songs, but the tracks never become bogged down by the weight of the subject matter due to Messersmith’s vibrant arrangements, and the deft production of Jeremy’s longtime musical partner, Andy Thompson — along with the veteran touch of producer Ben Allen and the musical contributions of a talented host of Twin Cities musicians — who all help perfectly capture the impassioned spirit of these songs.
“On Heart Murmurs Jeremy has opened up his music – painting sonic pictures that are bigger and louder and wider than anything he’s ever done,” McGuinn effuses. “With choruses that expand the footprint of his songs, without sacrificing the potential for quiet intensity, humor, or reflection. Bigger drum sounds from longtime cohort and producer Andy Thompson are matched with lush string parts and impeccable vocals to create a pop album that’s not afraid to rock, and a rock album that can be counted on to deliver thoughtful pop songs.”
Jeremy Messersmith’s first album for Glassnote continues the consistent rise of his burgeoning career while confidently adding to an already impressive back catalog filled with subtle hits just waiting to be discovered by a wider audience. Heart Murmurs is a bold, self-assured artistic statement by a musician who continues to craft lovely, unforgettable songs packed with equal parts ecstasy and grief, all of which leaves the listener reeling and wanting more. “The heart has a lot of secrets,” Messersmith candidly admits. “And writing this record was just my way of unlocking them.”