Telekinesis the phenomena is the act of moving objects with your mind. Telekinesis the band is a project by songwriter Michael Benjamin Lerner, who ironically seems to keep himself still with his mind. Telekinesis! is an album full of travel and movement and scenery, to be sure. From London to North Carolina to Tokyo, Lerner is always singing about moving.
But he doesn’t move as much as he says he does. Because he’s living inside his head, buried deep in wistful nostalgia and a desire for the unattainable. On opener "Rust," he admits right off that, yes, he is searching for love, but once he finds that love, his heart doesn’t know what to do with it. "The sucker goes ahead and calls it quits," he sings of his heart at the moment when the person he’s singing to requites Lerner’s love. In the hands of a lot of singers, the song would sound like the kind of pretentious heartbreak you’d find soundtracking One Tree Hill.
But Lerner, on this song and throughout the record, sounds like he’s struggling to get a hold of himself. In "Rust" he is reduced to ghostly moans when his words, like his heart, fail him. It’s a quieter, though no less propulsive sound than you’ll hear on the rest of the record. But its infectious melody and deep feeling announce Telekinesis! immediately as a brilliant pop record.
Lerner mines pop sounds you’ve heard before, but he does so with an undeniably energy, and his own contradictory mix of wanderlust and homesickness that make the songs as tense and heartbreaking as they are easy to dance to. These songs sound immediate and urgent, but for all their unbridled energy Lerner never loses sight of texture and depth. From the crunchy pop-rock of "Coast of Carolina," to the ’50s piano bounce of "Awkward Kisser," to the rainy day mood and spaced out guitar riffs of "Great Lakes," Lerner refuses to settle on a sound with Telekinesis!.
Lerner also mines memory and heartache without navel gazing. He never forgets that this is pop music, and he’s looking to get these songs hooked in your head. So there are more straightforward power-pop songs, like "Tokyo" and "Look to the East" and "Foreign Room," all of which are such perfectly constructed songs — with thickly reverbed vocals, chugging guitars and thundering drums — that in a perfect world they could all be huge hits.
But in crafting all these pristine pop songs, Lerner still manages to bring the album together as a whole. He travels across continents, up mountains and down into valleys, but most of it is in his head. He sings about his dreams, and sings lovingly of Toyko, a place he’s never been. Lerner just can’t slow his mind down and enjoy the present. So it’s a great turn when he ends the record with "I Saw Lightning." After all his dreaming and searching, he comes to a quiet domestic scene. He and his lover turn off the phone and watch the rain outside. It’s a fittingly stripped-down acoustic number, and Lerner sounds earnest when he says, "Let’s be in love." Lerner is content, ready to stop moving. At least for the moment. Notice he doesn’t say "I love you." Instead he offers up the suggestion, puts it in the other’s hands. So while he might be happy to settle down now, who knows if it’ll last.
For the sake of Telekinesis, I sure hope it doesn’t. This album, with all its unmoored, frenetic energy, is a fantastic pop album, even if it doesn’t posit anything new. Telekinesis, like so many great Merge bands over the years, make great songs, period. Songs with earnest feeling. Songs free of ego and artifice. Songs that fit into traditions but not trends. Songs that demand to be played over and over, in your car or at a party, as loud as you can crank ’em.