Minneapolis singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith sings sweet, timeless songs about love, desire, death and grief — not, it would seem, the stuff of grandiose artistic ambition. And yet Messersmith stands out by trying harder, doing more and always reaching farther than it seems. This is a guy who, whenever possible, tours with an eight-piece band that includes a string section, and who once released a tremendous album (2010's The Reluctant Graveyard) in which the songs were written from the perspective of the dead. His work brings to mind some of the kindest voices in modern pop — David Mead, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, Fountains of Wayne's Chris Collingwood — but it also finds room for surprising twists and strange turns.
As its title suggests, Heart Murmurs mostly traverses the terrain of love, but Messersmith scrutinizes it from as many angles as possible: The album traffics in thwarted desire ("It's Only Dancing"), stubborn devotion ("Tourniquet") and bad-boy self-flagellation ("Bridges") before 15 minutes have passed. Along the way, Messersmith tries on any number of perspectives — never more effectively than in the deceptively titled "I Want to Be Your One Night Stand." In a ballad worthy of Fountains of Wayne, another act with a gift for giving voice to stubborn strivers just trying to get by, Messersmith crafts a perfect two-minute ode to modest expectations.
But for the singer himself, that's where the modest expectations end: With its subtle strings and sly infectiousness, Heart Murmurs is no less than an attempt to craft a new batch of pop standards. Whether Messersmith succeeds depends mostly on how many people are lucky enough to hear him.