Release Date: Feb 15, 2011
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
Michael Lerner may be the sole musician wandering the halls of his now two-album-deep discography as Telekinesis, but he creates indie-pop that comes across every bit as lived-in and spaced-out as it does immediate and bite-sized. This sort of pop carries with it the kind of clarity that eschews any stigma that may come from the admittedly adolescent navel-gazing that it employs so well. There is bravery behind the slight naiveté that makes you feel kind of lame for wanting to look down on it in the first place.
Urgent and barbed! Michael Lerner set out to record the follow-up to ‘Telekinesis!’ having lost his band and his muse – he had split from the partner who inspired that debut’s yearning lyrics. So he holed himself up to write, bought a bass to complement his guitar strums, and then set off to record again with Death Cab’s Chris Walla. The result, recorded straight to tape, is urgent and barbed, as though the songs have poured from him in moments of teeth-grinding frustration.
Sniping at straightforward indie-pop is a bit like playing piñata without a blindfold. Fortunately for candy-stuffed Seattleite Telekinesis, detractors often afford its catchiest new bloom a degree of lenience. The press release states that Telekinesis - aka LIPA-schooled singer-songwriter Michael Benjamin Lerner - locked himself in a room and worked nine 'til five on this, the follow up to his self-titled debut.
On 12 Desperate Straight Lines, Telekinesis does everything good power pop does, providing uncountable hooks and letting songs last just long enough to necessitate another listen. Producer Chris Walla’s touch is evident throughout, fleshing out sounds to make it interesting without becoming too slick. While Lines doesn’t escape the limits of its genre—a little more substantial than an EP, consistent but not expansive—it plays its role well, and has enough moments to hold up beyond the first couple listens.
Within a brief spat of radio interference that linked the second and third tracks of Telekinesis’ sophomore release, something interesting happened. No sooner had Please Ask For Help rounded out its New Order thrust of treated guitar and bass when 50 Ways launched into the power-chords and glorious distortion that defined Weezer’s Blue Album. From sleek to stomp in a blink, Telekinesis (Michael Benjamin Lerner) isn’t just testing his own immaculate sense of sequencing; he’s jumping decades, taking us from the pop heights of one retro-cool era to another with his compact songwriting as the lead guide.
After working with his friend, producer Chris Walla, on Telekinesis' self-titled debut record, then recording an EP (2010’s Parallel Seismic Conspiracies) by himself, Michael Benjamin Lerner decided to go back to work with Walla on the band’s second album. While the debut had plenty of good songs, the over-stuffed and slick production sucked some of the air out of the sound. For 12 Desperate Straight Lines, the songs are still there, only this time some of the looseness of the self-produced sessions comes into play and the end result ends up being a marked improvement.
On the one hand, Michael Lerner's Telekinesis comes over like boilerplate mid-aughts indie rock, slotting easily next to everything that draws a line to The Photo Album-era Death Cab For Cutie. But his sound can be traced back further; when he's playing spirted power pop, you could see his music working well between Matthew Sweet and Better Than Ezra (if you think the latter is an insult, perhaps you haven't listened to 1996's underrated Friction, Baby). But while Telekinesis' catalog brings to mind a handful of musical eras, it can sound a little odd in the present.
Talk about a peculiar turn of events. Just last month, I was lamenting the failure of would-be grunge rock revivalists to effectively pick up the threads of the 90s Seattle scene and refashion them into something culturally relevant to this cold, sleek, Steve Jobs-designed dystopia of the twenty-teens. Suddenly, as if in answer to my challenge, what falls into my lap but 12 Desperate Straight Lines.
TELEKINESIS plays the Horseshoe March 6. See listing. Rating: NNN Bands in need of a catchy pop sound with a light edge should visit Chris Walla in Portland. The Death Cab for Cutie guitarist and producer can seemingly get this result from any artist he works with, including Michael Benjamin Lerner, aka Telekinesis.
Despite Michael Benjamin Lerner’s penchant for peppy tunes and “BUP-baada-BUP” vocals, the Telekinesis mastermind seems like a worrywart on 12 Desperate Straight Lines, his group’s latest effort. On “Gotta Get It Right Now”, he and whoever is singing backup nag themselves with the title over and over, kinda like those poor sleep-deprived kids who compete in the National Spelling Bee. “Get It Right” is the closing song on a breakup album, the culmination of 12 Desperate Straight Lines, when Lerner should be having an epiphany or meeting someone new, or whatever happens when you culminate.
The sophomore effort by Telekinesis isn’t bad. Not by a long shot. Each of the 12 tracks that make up the album is a quick nugget of melodic guitar riffs and driving drum beats. The problem comes along once it ends. Unfortunately, 12 Desperate Straight Lines is average and forgettable for the ….
The title of Telekinesis' second album, 12 Desperate Straight Lines, sounds like a recovery program for struggling songwriters. In the past two years, Michael Benjamin Lerner lost his band, van, and the girlfriend that inspired the long-distance romance of Telekinesis' self-titled 2009 debut. His strength lies in the ability to channel such circumstances into power-pop nuggets with a heartfelt immediacy and ear-worm melodies, as in standouts "Car Crash" and opener "You Turn Clear in the Sun." While he's guided by obvious voices – Robert Pollard sideman Jason Narducy handles bass here (see "Palm of Your Hand," "I Got You") – returning producer Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie helps expand Lerner's four-track range.