Jeremy Messersmith: The Silver City

At the Franklin Avenue station the train doors part. A harp-accompanied falsetto voice and angelic choir welcome us to heavenly Suburbia, the first stop on our moon-dipped tour of The Silver City. Not coincidentally, this city lends its name to Jeremy Messersmith's latest record, a bittersweet love letter to the Twin Cities and perhaps the best local album of the year. Filtered through the songwriter, Minneapolis becomes a celestial, sometimes idealized, sometimes hyper-realistic version of itself. Futuristic travelers on The Silver City's cover scamper toward the Midwestern Oz.

As we continue our whimsical rail ride, narrator Messersmith's "Dead-End Job" proves that while loud guitars may get us going, it takes a great ballad to really take out our legs. The tune is a sweet but doleful look at stereotypical American life; its horn-drenched bridge section connotes timeless, meandering elevator music.

We pause to loiter on "Franklin Avenue," the Dan Wilson-produced record's standout track. Messersmith's collaboration with the Grammy Award-winning Wilson proves potent on this radio-friendly cut, the latter crooning "Waiting for that sinking feeling" over, among other things, a tambourine, cello, and glockenspiel.

The production on The Silver City is beautifully spare, with well-chosen accents from bells to electronica and clarinet that are always underfoot but never overwhelm or seem artificial. Space here is used almost as another instrument, serving to bolster the record's dynamic and broaden its sonic atmosphere.

Throughout our tour of city streets, love, marriage, loss, and rebirth, our conductor does his best to soothe. Vocally, Messersmith impresses; he is a more confident version of Death Cab's Ben Gibbard, a less hazy Elliott Smith. His voice has gentleness without the typical emo affectation. It is a memorable voice that will have boys reminiscing and girls steadying their knees (see "Love You to Pieces").

Nearing our destination, we're held up briefly by a welcome back-road breakdown before meeting with a serene rendition of Paul Westerberg's "Skyway," through which Messersmith manages to make everybody's favorite hamster cage of downtown steel and smudged glass seem a beautiful thing. Finally, after a lovers' getaway to Virginia, we're back on the "Light Rail." The cut would be right at home on a Wes Anderson movie soundtrack; it locomotes poppily about the countryside, all aboard bobbing their heads and grinning. And when we reach the end of the line, we'll all buy a ticket back to the city.

 
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