The current prevailing trend for one-man outfits hiding behind colourful band names is either to bathe their sweet pop nuggets in gauzy guitars and celestial drift (hello Toro Y Moi) or scald them with frazzled lo-fi fuzz (ahoy Cloud Nothings). Michael Benjamin Lerner scrubs up a different way.
On his second album as Telekinesis! most songs mix early noughties indie-rock clout with the tautness and punch of power-pop. Recorded (by Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie) straight to analog tape gives the trebly guitars, fuzzy bass and heavy drums a crisp pop-crunch – it sounds far ‘bigger’ than a mere one-man project. The twelve songs are mostly two-and-a-half minute smash-and-grab raids, all armed with killer hooks, buoyantly uplifting and seemingly straight-forward on first listen. The majority are built on simple, direct phrases, almost slogans, delivered with a refreshing lack of allusion or metaphor: ‘Palm of The Hand’ or ‘Car Crash’ (“you were wrong but you were never right / now I feel so lonely but I also feel so right”) are perfect examples of this. And ‘I Cannot Love You’ or ‘Please Ask For Help’ really don’t need much unpacking beyond their titles.
As this last pair suggests Lerner is hurt and hurting. Behind the sunny college-pop you hear this from the get-go in opener ‘You Turn Clear In The Sun’: “I never loved you / I never loved anyone” is the opening premise which becomes “was it you or was it me?”. Recrimination and lovelessness rarely sounded so luminous and cheery.
Elsewhere the dark clouds casting shadows over the surging, summery pop are more obvious. The Paul Simon referencing ‘50 ways’ is heavier in all senses: quiet/loud passages of dense and thunderous anger. ‘Fever Chill’ moves from a strummed, quiet opening to jagged guitar riffs and lip-curling bitterness: “you’re going to cry when you see me”. The dark resentment is immediately contrasted with the pastoral escape dream of ‘Country Lane’ – as though Lerner cannot stay spiteful for too long. A late deviation to the power-pop template is the penultimate track ‘Patterns’ which sonically is a sun-dappled soundscape of rippling piano but lyrically a post-mortem into who told the biggest lie. The album mood-swings back for final track ‘Gotta Get It Right’, a mammoth (three-and-a-half minute!) stomp of optimistic self-assertion and liberty (“all my friends are so locked down / I’m twenty three I should be screwing around / I gotta get it right now”).
Merge Records is the perfect home for Telekinesis! nestled alongside Superchunk, Spoon and Robert Pollard. Lerner may not be on trend but full marks to him for delivering maximum tuneage with apparent ease – and all the while keeping the vibe upbeat despite the emotional turbulence.
Telekinesis 12 Desperate Straight Lines [BUY]