Michael Benjamin Lerner can’t stay quiet. If you have listened to any of his releases as Telekinesis, you know that Lerner gravitates toward explosive power-pop, and any attempts he makes to temper the driving sounds are about as effective as placing a lid on a geyser. Take the song “Coast Of Carolina,” a track off of his 2009 debut, Telekinesis!: It starts off with a lazily strummed acoustic guitar and a hazy voice that sounds like it was recorded on a tape deck, but then clarity strikes, and drums and an electric guitar team up to punch you in the ears. Part of this may have to do with Lerner’s background as a drummer—the need to make booming sounds is part of his musical DNA. It may also have to do with the fact that anyone who helms a one-man band, and covers most of the parts in the studio himself, has got to be fueled by an abundance of energy that translates into his music.
In 2012, Lerner journeyed to Jim Eno’s studio on Dormarion Lane in Austin, Texas, to record the 12 songs that would make up his third album. The 26-year-old, Seattle-based musician and the Spoon drummer brought their percussive brains together, and two weeks later, Dormarion was finished. The album’s credits show that Lerner wrote all but one song by himself (“Wires” was co-written with Matthew Caws, lead singer of Nada Surf) and that although Eno contributed a little percussion here, a little extra synthesizer there, Lerner was also the go-to on all of the instruments. I’d really love to see Lerner play everything by himself live—maybe by implementing lots of guitar and bass loops, drumming via pulley system, playing the keyboard with his feet—but unfortunately, he does have a real touring band.
Dormarion starts with Lerner’s gotcha dynamics: A quiet acoustic guitar and Lerner’s distant voice open “Power Lines,” but then an electric joins in to mimic the riff and blasts the song off into joyous power-stance rock. This is Lerner’s happy place, bashing his drum kit and chugging out hearty guitar parts reminiscent of Big Star. Big and bright melodic songs dominate the album, though Lerner does try to show he’s not a one-trick pony with “Ever True,” whose sharp, dark synthesizers overpower the track as they beg you to dance. Please? No? OK, that’s cool. Then it’s back to the rock show with you and some trudging guitars on the following song, “Island #4.”
But there are moments where the variations pay off. “Symphony” is the album’s most intimate song, featuring only Lerner’s lightly shivering tenor and an acoustic guitar. This is Lerner’s love song moment, the one quiet time where he resists blowing a tender moment to smithereens. “You are my love and/You are above/Any women that I’ve ever met,” he sings, adding, “I do believe that/We are machines and we/Search till our parts intersect.” It’s a perfect bit of nerd sincerity that convinces you that Lerner isn’t putting you on with his sudden vulnerability.
Lerner doesn’t just operate on a loud-and-soft spectrum though. “Ghost And Creatures” is the album’s best song, and though it doesn’t contain Lerner’s drum smashes—just some drum machine from Eno—it propels itself with syncopated piano and rumbling synthesizers. There’s a haunting quality to it, and Lerner has called it “the most unlike-me song I’d ever written.” But that’s the key to progressing Telekinesis: Lerner released two solid albums of guitar-and-drum-led rock, but he grows on Dormarion because he is finally willing to knock over the boundaries he built for himself.