Jeremy Messersmith compared himself to Father John Misty in an interview with the Emerald last spring, but the Minnesotan artist is proving that despite the similar worldview to FJM, he’s an artist with his own voice — somehow overly sweet and dark at the same time.
Messersmith’s new album “Late Stage Capitalism” shows the songwriter moving in a direction all his own, coating dark lyrics in poppy, sometimes schmaltzy instrumentals. This contrast frames the album. It may be named “Late Stage Capitalism,” but even the most political songs focus on something as basic as human interaction.
The Minneapolis musician has been making music for over 10 years, and “Late Stage Capitalism” is his fifth full-length record, not including two separate musical projects: the “Paper Moon” EP and a ukulele record titled “11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs for Ukulele: A Micro-Folk Record for the 21st Century and Beyond.” His sound has grown from Elliott Smith-esque guitar-driven indie rock to songs that include bossa nova and ’60s pop influences
“Late Stage Capitalism” shows Messersmith creating some of the best characters in his songs since his 2010 album, “The Reluctant Graveyard.” It has always been hard to divorce Messersmith from his characters because the characterizations are so specific. In “Purple Hearts,” the album’s single, he sings: “I have a knack for awkward silences / late night drunk text messages / I’m great at playing dumb.” Messersmith — who writes songs about “Star Wars” and used to call himself the “Pied Piper of Wuss Rock” — might be the character in “Purple Hearts,” but he might not, too.
Some of the albums most poignant moments don’t necessarily come from songs like “Purple Hearts,” though. Instead, playful romps like “Monday, You’re Not So Bad” and the acoustic “No Superheroes in Cleveland” make mundane moments — like realizing Monday is around the corner — shine. He even refers to Monday in the third person: “She cleans up after the weekend,” he croons.
Unlike 2014’s “Heart Murmurs,” which served as a strong movement toward a more radio-friendly, poppy sound, “Late Stage Capitalism” pulls influences from across Messersmith’s discography. Bits of his earlier folkier songs come to surface in tracks such as “Fireflower” and “No Superheroes in Cleveland” while “Jim Bakker,” a rocking dramatic monologue, is reminiscent of “Dillinger Eyes” with its rollicking guitars and look into an eccentric personality.
But this album sees Messersmith also exploring new instrumentation, including an organ solo in Fast Times in Minnesota.” The song builds with folky guitar picking. Messersmith sings over it, slowly building his light voice’s intensity: “Phyllis go home / you’re probably drunk / what she called your knack for genius / is probably only luck.”
For a native of the Pacific Northwest who moved to Minneapolis for college, Messersmith has managed to capture the cadences of Minnesotan life throughout his career. “Fast Times in Minnesota” feels like what all his songs about the Midwest have been leading to. And “Late Stage Capitalism” feels like something Messersmith has been trying to reach his whole career. If it takes him another five years to create an album like this, it will all be worth it.
Find Sararosa on Twitter @srosiedosie.