Murder Mystery is a pop band with a soul and a brain, expert at turning out catchy, hard-rocking, intelligent music in the mode of Nick Lowe, Magnetic Fields, or Talking Heads. There’s isn’t a single weak track on their self-released debut, Are You Ready for the Heartache Cause Here It Comes; the band’s propulsive grooves reference everything from doo-wop to new wave, smoothly melded into their own unique style. Frontman Jeremy Coleman’s delivery combines Leonard Cohen’s detached tone with David Byrne’s anxious yelp to deliver forlorn commentary on the state of modern romance. “I wish I had a singing style,” he says modestly, chatting via cell phone from a tour van driving through a Midwestern snowstorm. “I like to sing on key, but I don’t try to emulate anyone. You have to be a good singer to do that, and I’m not there.”
Coleman also plays ’50s-style lead guitar that’s equal parts blues, country, and rock, without a trace of the usual Chuck Berry–isms most guitarists fall back on. “Music was always a big part of my life,” he says. “I thought I was a mediocre guitar player and singer, but when I graduated from college, I realized I didn’t want a job—I wanted to be a musician.” He moved to New York with bassist buddy Adam Fels and recruited his sister Laura, a professional tap dancer, to play drums. When Kevin Jaszek joined on second guitar, the band got to work blending Coleman’s ironic observations with upbeat melodies that make his jaundiced stories of relationships gone awry affecting, without dipping into self-pity. Even in a song like “What My Baby Said,” where he already has the girl, Coleman croons: “She said she loves me, in a way that I could never love her back.” Not your standard happy ending.
Since they recorded the album, Graham Roberts has replaced Jaszek on second guitar, soldiering on as the band crisscrosses the country delivering their dyspeptic vision of love and romance. “I don’t like slow and sulky music, but somehow the lyrics are cynical,” Coleman explains. “I just don’t have the personality—or the courage—to write an I-love-you-baby-more-than-life-itself song.”