There’s something peculiar about Telekinesis. Maybe it’s their neat-and-tidy looks or the jaunty guitar work or the wordless, group-sung choruses, or the fact that their press kit comes with the smothering phrase “indie rock” already assigned to their iTunes genre tag. But they embody every bit of the late-naughties indie-sludge we’ve all come to know and hate.
Essentially the one-man-band of the bespectacled Michael Benjamin Lerner, the project originated in Seattle, made its way to a few showcases, and somehow wound up on Merge’s stacked roster. 12 Desperate Straight Lines is essentially an experiment�in how well-intentioned influences and a broken-hearted inspiration can go horribly, horribly wrong.
Lerner approaches music-making in the same way plenty of people of his generation approached listening; sticking with the inclusive, populist, and occasionally-acclaimed nimble hooks of bands like Death Cab For Cutie,�Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and, erm, Ra Ra Riot – the kind of thing most would associate with the 21st century indie-yuppie. Those keen influences could build a suitable foundation for something grander and much more 2011, but Lerner is perfectly content to stick with what he knows, and what he knows doesn’t really make for a developmental listen. Essentially the Telekinesis project is a character-siphoning institution – resulting in music that copy-pastes already outdated guitar-pop appeals in two-minute chunks, adding up to a 12-song venture of pure flavourlessness.
The only moments where 12 Desperate Straight Lines succeeds (a dubious term to use) is when Michael reaches deeper in his musical lexicon than the surface-level 2000s. The trodden flickers of Please Ask For Help immediately bring to mind Joy Division‘s more philosophical moments, the delicate piano-ballad Patterns floats along like The Replacements‘ ruminating Androgynous. These songs evolve their source material in a meaningful way and hold their ground.
But there are simply far too many songs like Car Crash where everything falls into place in exactly the wrong way. The vanilla, all-together-now whoa-ohs, the forefront guitar beams, lyrics like “ca-ca-ca-car crash! Late in the night! You’re never wrong but you were never right!”… It’s not fair to expect every band to keep things constantly invigorated, but 12 Desperate Straight Lines is primarily composed of this gunk, its heart and soul nowhere to be found. By the end you’re not even sure what Telekinesis is about, as if Lerner’s personality is constantly struggling to get out.
In the end it wouldn’t be too surprising if Telekinesis end up becoming incredibly fruitful; Lerner has the sprightly pseudo-indie sound down, and he can occasionally string together a catchy guitar angle and a memorable lyrical quip. But when you consider the enormous pedigree he’s (at worst) stealing from and (at best) ‘paying tribute’ to, it’s hard to see his music as anything else but leftovers. It’s sustainable, technically sound, and part of a much bigger feast that happened a couple years ago.