Who: Twenty-two-year-old Michael Benjamin Lerner, who got his teenage kicks playing drums in Seattle bands like Toy Guns before writing and recording his own tracks under the name Telekinesis about three years ago. A stint opening for Death Cab For Cutie caught the ear of that band’s guitarist Chris Walla, who agreed to handle production for Telekinesis’ eponymous debut on Merge Records.
Sounds Like: With fuzzed-out guitars, hyperactive rhythms and sun-kissed vocals masking a serious melancholic streak, Telekinesis is classic ’70s-style power-pop, as played by a child of modern indie-rock. Infectious tracks like “Look to the East” and “Awkward Kisser” owe as much to Sloan and Teenage Fanclub as they do Big Star and The Raspberries.
Vital Stats: • Many of the songs on Telekinesis are sung from the perspective of someone with an active dream-life and imagination — a product of the solitary state in which they were written. “Most of the songs were written in a pretty dark, dingy practice space in Seattle where Soundgarden used to play. And it still smells like vomit and beer and nastiness,” says Lerner. “I would just go there every day and write songs. That, and having a girlfriend all the way across the country makes it really easy to start imagining faraway places.” The album is imbued with a serious wanderlust. “There are songs like ‘Tokyo,’ which is a place I only really know through something like Lost In Translation. So the songs are about wanting to be somewhere as much as they are about actually going anywhere.”
• During the tracking of Telekinesis, Lerner and Walla recorded a song per day to analog tape, often turning to other records for inspiration. “We would be trying to get a sound for the drums or guitars and Chris would stop on a dime and grab his laptop and play something by Fleetwood Mac or Robert Wyatt,” Lerner says. “And he would always find the sound that we were looking for.” The learning-by-listening process wasn’t a new experience for Lerner, whose father was a radio DJ for 30 years. His special relationship to radio wound up subtly influencing the sound of the album: “With a song like ‘Coast of Carolina’ I wanted the listener to turn it up on the quiet beginning and get hit unexpectedly with volume; almost like they were changing the station.”
• Telekinesis’ raised profile has made Lerner more of a people-person, musically speaking. Telekinesis are now a fully functioning band, featuring David and Jonie Broecker (on guitar and bass, respectively) and Chris Staples (on guitar). “When it’s just you in your practice space, you don’t really have anyone to bounce ideas off of,” says Lerner. “We’ve played so many shows together that songs are getting completely transformed. Even a song like ‘Calling All Doctors,’ which is just a piano ballad on the album, has become a guitar-driven, upbeat track now. It’s become four guys playing onstage together, rather than just one guy with three people backing him up.”