Sugar-Sweet and Upbeat
Michael Benjamin Lerner, otherwise known as the one-man band Telekinesis, emerged from the rainy Seattle landscape in 2009 with Telekinesis!, an album full of affable power-pop produced by fellow northwestern indie rocker Chris Walla, of Death Cab for Cutie fame. Lerner followed Telekinesis! with 2011’s 12 Desperate Straight Lines, another record praised for its pop sensibilities. And now, with his third album Dormarion, Telekinesis continues to craft his brand of slick indie-pop, with a few healthy doses of synth and stylistic experimentation.
“Power Lines” starts off with simple, acoustic power chords and Lerner’s quavery tenor warbling honeyed, irrepressibly optimistic lyrics: “Even when I’m lonely, I’m always surprised / all the ways you told me to keep my eye on the prize.” And that unwavering, cheerfully-looking-forward-attitude is exactly what Lerner does best—as guitars crash in with a big wave of robust riffs and bright synths, you can just imagine the guy speeding down a windswept coastal highway in the early summer sunshine, with a huge smile on his face. This hale and hearty, full-bodied pop characterizes most of the album. It’s especially evident in the loud, pounding drums of “Empathetic People” and the jangly, buoyant guitars on “Dark to Light.” But while Telekinesis has a knack for writing catchy hooks, these smooth, predictable melodies aren’t necessarily all that memorable; it’s the outliers, the experiments, that you remember.
Telekinesis’ experiments are not drastic by any means, but they demonstrate his evolving talents as a songwriter, and perhaps some influence from his new producer, Spoon’s Jim Eno. “Lean on Me” introduces a nostalgic, ’60s pop feel, with light, trebly guitar riffs accompanying a rare almost-falsetto from Lerner as he sings about young love and “driving across the country in our beat-up truck.” Other songs, though, jump a few decades and try out some synth pop: “Ghosts and Creatures” features appropriately eerie effects and atmospheric synths, and “Ever True” takes ’80s technologia and infuses it with a peppy pop melody.
Dormarion finds Lerner edging, ever so slowly, towards a more mature sound. While Dormarion sometimes loses focus or sounds slickly overproduced and generic, as on the chaotic “Little Hill” or the superficial “Laissez-Faire” and “You Take It Slowly,” Lerner’s songwriting is clearly, if gradually, improving—and this makes him one slow-burning musician to watch.