For years Leighton Meester has been known for playing the infamous and delightfully devilish Blair Waldorf on the teen soap Gossip Girl, so it might be news to some that she also has a résumé in music. What started out as a career of lending her voice to soundtracks of various projects she was involved in, eventually led to a recording contract with Universal Republic. In 2009 she shared the hit, “Good Girls Go Bad” with dance-pop band Cobra Starship, but her foray as a dance pop starlet didn’t extend much further. A few unsuccessful singles later (including a duet with Robin Thicke) an album was never released and Meester and Universal parted ways. Things were seemingly quiet on the music front for a little while, until late 2010 when she started working with the band Check In The Dark, writing her own songs after being inspired by her time on the film Country Strong (whose soundtrack she also contributed) and resulted in a five city tour exhibiting her new found folk/jazz sound that fans were rather receptive to.
Fast-forward four years later to the release of Heartstrings, and not only is the former dance pop starlet nowhere to be found (neither is the backing of Check In The Dark) but the folksy-twang still remains. To fans who might be perplexed with the slight melodic shift and lack of the Check In The Dark sound they’ve come to know and love, this is simply Meester finding her own sound instead of molding her songs to their sound. In fact, Leighton herself has described the album of re-worked songs as “dream pop” and it couldn’t be more accurate as the album lures you in with it’s hypnotic state, like a lullaby slowly guiding you to sleep, silently promising that everything will be alright in the morning.
Heartstrings as a whole grapples with the yin and yang of love with a self-awareness that is both refreshing and relatable; all the while displaying a vulnerability that admits its mistakes but carries no shame. It’s title track is a tale of love taken for granted and the independence that comes with finding out just how fine you are when you are no longer tied to what is no longer able to appreciate you. “Now I’m fine without you,” Meester euphorically croons and it’s hard not to feel bad for the poor fool on the receiving end. Runaway, easily the stand out track of the album, is about reminding yourself of why and how you fell in love and how that’s enough to try, when your relationship is falling towards the wayside. Good For One Thing, one of the more upbeat tracks on the album: a calling out of an insecure, full of yourself type that apparently is …only good for one thing. Sweet is easily the trance-iest ballad on the album, while On My Side is purely top-down music, meant to be experienced on the road, coasting down the highway at no less than 65mph. L.A. a quirky little song about you-guessed-it, Los Angeles, is a kind of retro dreamlike island jingle that the Beach Boys might have sung in another life. Dreaming, the most haunting song of the album and maybe the darkest, still manages to make you feel like you’re floating on the same cloud since track one. Though most of Heartstrings showcases her lighter vulnerable voice, Blue Afternoon has a more defined firmer tone that is reminiscent of the Check In The Dark era backed with twilight melodies, still keeping in theme with the rest of this reverie. Our last stop, Entitled, finds Meester at her most exposed. She recounts a time where she was so blinded by unrequited love, pointing fingers at both herself and her oppressor, “shame on you, but shame on me too.” (Okay, so maybe there’s a little shame)
Sonically, Heartstrings is impeccable, lush, bright and dazzling as it takes you along its journey. This is the album that Taylor Swift has always wanted to make, but hasn’t quite mastered yet. In doing so, Meester effortlessly gifts you with an assortment of ballads and anthems appropriate for any stage of heartbreak. That being said, her voice could be stronger, based solely on previous live performances and recordings. In the past she has demonstrated she can be commanding and deeper. Meester comes across soulful enough, just a bit delicate, which given the concept of the album is probably intentional. That assertive, striking delivery would have worked well on some of the albums more combative tracks (Good For One Thing, Heartstrings)
All in all, Heartstrings is a solid piece of work and a valiant first effort. Whether you were already a fan or just simply curious, I think it’s safe to say after a listen (unlike the inspiration behind the album) you won’t regret getting tangled in her heartstrings.
Chantel Williams is a writer, blogger, & music enthusiast living in California who spends way too much time making playlists and not enough time sleeping. When she’s not being a faux DJ she enjoys writing poetry and short stories. You can find her at TheArtOfWrite.com and @hittingrefresh