When a band is created to largely serve as a front for the artistic vision for a single individual, the results are often mixed. While a single source of content can produce a unified product in tone and intention, the approach can also be bereft of much-needed editing or outside perspective – to sift-out the composer's thoughts into a production that others can access. Despite these inherent risks, the sophomore effort of Telekinesis – itself a recording and performance moniker for Michael Benjamin Lerner – is at the same time clear in its vision but largely unmuddled by Lerner's execution of his ideas on 12 Desperate Straight Lines, released today on Merge Records.
Taking a page of the pop-rock crunch of mainstream acts like Weezer or the Fountains of Wayne, Lerner spins out a catchy and briskly-paced collection of a dozen tracks, lightly informed by 80's-sounding synth pop and hints of blues and grunge. With a vocal cadence suggesting a blend of Southeast Engine's Adam Remnant, The Arcade Fire's Winn Butler and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Lerner focuses on quick and enjoyable numbers – none spanning more than the 3:39 of the album's closer, the spirited blues romp, "Gotta Get It Right Now," while the mid-set "Palm of Your Hand" clocks in at just under 90 seconds. Opener "You Turn Clear in the Sun" sets the tone for the remainder of the proceedings, with flighty organs and fuzzy guitars pacing the track, which ultimately includes the same sort of telephone-ring keyboard riff as The Tragically Hip's "In View."
Like many releases reviewed here, the record's second number is its finest. "Please Ask for Help" bounds forth with classic rock-sounding drums and a sludgy bass line – the latter of which becomes a signature sound across several tracks – includes Lerner's best lyricism, such as "you wander downtown around a quarter to two" or "you gotta give me some time with these ones and twos," neatly matching the song's urgency on what amounts to the protagonist's desire to aid a friend. That nervous energy is contrasted its successor, "50 Ways," which borrows much of its structure from the heart of the Weezer catalog, and includes a respectful nod to Paul Simon's original using the same numerals. Its intro and chorus parts are classic Rivers Cuomo, with the gentler verses highlighting the loud/quiet approach so defining of 90's alternative.
Things lighten up with "Dirty Things," an easy stand-in for The English Beat, circa 1982, but stripped of much of the reggae foundation. It's simply rendered, but the style requires nothing more for listener enjoyment. The subsequent "Car Crash" features a bit more substance, but is pleasantly anchored by a less sludgy bass part and whoa-whoa gang choruses.
A number of straight-forward pop-rock gems round-out the effort. "I Got You" could easily have been tailored by Fountains of Wayne pop cuisinart Adam Schlesinger, while "Fever Chill" harks more to the Arcade Fire model of Neon Bible. At the same time, "Country Lane" serves as almost an-anti Theme-from-Cheers selection, complete with the line, "I wanna live on a country lane, some place where no one knows your name, and will forget you, too." And yet, if there's one that doesn't fit here, it's "Patterns" – far too ethereal and uncommitted to match the spirit of the rest of the record. Still, 11 out of 12 is perfectly acceptable for a one-man show.
Come for: "Please Ask for Help"
Stay for: "You Turn Clear in the Sun"
You'll be surprised by: "Dirty Thing"
P.S.: Telekinesis – Lerner is usually supported on the road by bassist Jason Narducy and guitarist Cody Votolato, while Lerner customarily mans the drum kit – will be appearing live on an extended North American tour this winter/spring, including a March 12th gig at the Red Palace on the H Street corridor in northwest Washington, D.C.
P.P.S.: You should definitely check out a great indie-rock blog called Indie Rock Kid. Why is it great? Cause this kid is 13, and is an excellent writer (for his age, and any age). I wish I would have had his writing talent and access to the internet when I was the same age. And he's also organizing a benefit show in the Bay Area tied to the It Gets Better project. So, well done.
P.P.P.S. (or is it P.P.S.S.?): I'm considering including a listing of the touring schedules of current and past NMT profilees, either at the end of each weekly post, or as a separate additional post (perhaps Touring Schedule Saturdays?), hopefully beginning next week. I'd be more than appreciative of your feedback on this.