Telekinesis is a band. It says so on the album cover, on the marquee, on the poster, on your MP3 file. Telekinesis could not be a person because it is a terrible name for a person, or for anything other than a band (other than, to be fair, the act of moving stuff using one's mind).
Telekinesis is not a band. Bands have people in them (plural); Telekinesis is one person (singular) because Michael Benjamin Lerner decided that "Telekinesis" would look better on the album cover, on the marquee, on the poster, on your MP3 file, than "Michael Benjamin Lerner" (though, to be fair, Michael Benjamin Lerner is a perfectly great name for a person).
Telekinesis is both a band and a person. It's taken Michael Benjamin Lerner-now a wizened 26-year-old-four years to come to terms with this, although one would not, from listening to its/his previous two albums, 2009's self-titled debut and 2011's 12 Desperate Straight Lines, detect any hint of confusion or self-doubt, aside from the songs that were directly about confusion or self-doubt. His (we're settling into the singular male possessive now and staying there) third album, Dormarion, is, then, in ways both practical and profound, the sound of a man figuring out exactly who he is. Also, it's a total fucking hoot.
Which was not necessarily the case with previous efforts. "The second record was such dregs," Lerner says. "I was pissed off about relationship issues and health issues. Even the tour cycle was angry and negative." And this unpleasantness is due in no small part to Lerner's effort to expand Telekinesis from a solo project into the stable, ongoing unit that toured behind 12DSL, with Jason Narducy, now of Bob Mould's band, playing bass and Cody Votolato, formerly of Blood Brothers, on guitar. "I really struggled to find ways for Telekinesis to become a band-band and not just one guy making music," he says, explaining that attempts to write and record with Votolato and Narducy-whom Lerner, a drummer by nature, acknowledges as superior musicians-just didn't quite come together. "But the overarching lesson was that Telekinesis totally is one guy making music, and that's what works best and what makes me the happiest. And this record really encapsulates that."
Lerner wrote the 12 songs that comprise Dormarion in early 2012-half at his home in West Seattle and half at his family's house in the San Juan Islands-with the original intention of recording the album completely on his own. Instead, he road-tripped over the summer and made the record in two weeks with Spoon drummer Jim Eno (Heartless Bastards, Strange Boys, Polia, Black Joe Lewis, Mates of State), with whom he'd talked about working for years. Lerner packed up the van, screwing up his courage the whole drive towards Eno's vaunted Public Hi-Fi studio in Austin, Texas (Arcade Fire, Spoon, Explosions in the Sky, Roky Erikson, Jet, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Lyle Lovett, Joe Walsh). On Dormarion Lane, to be specific.
"It's a beautiful-sounding word, and if you Google it, nothing but this one tiny street comes up," says Lerner, although this is obviously about to change. "No origin, no description. I can't tell you what the word means. It's like something from Lost."
So there's two drummers, and no one else, collaborating shoulder-to-shoulder on a musically adventurous album containing two centerpiece songs on which there are no drums whatsoever. The breakthrough, musically and otherwise, came with the eighth song written for the record, "Ghosts and Creatures," a keyboard-driven, spacey, and darn near Goth turn that marks a conscious departure from his guitar-bass-drums power-pop racket. "That was the most unlike-me song I'd ever written."
And of course, by being unlike himself, he found himself (or something like that) as befitting a young man facing a minor existential crisis. Also helping: Lerner is getting married this fall. "It's a pretty great feeling when you know you're no longer searching for something," he says. "And that was a big part of the songwriting because I'm such a heart-on-my-sleeve person in general. I'm not afraid to show when I'm excited about something." The excitement is evident on the massive-sounding "Dark to Light" and the gloriously spastic "Empathetic People," which deliver Telekinesis' familiar sunny sound, only now with an actual sunny disposition behind it.
When you see Telekinesis perform this year-and really, you should-Lerner will be backed by Erik Walters of The Globes on guitar, Say Hi's Eric Elbogen on bass, and Rebecca Cole of Wild Flag and The Minders on keyboards and, occasionally, drums. (Although don't expect Lerner to give up his post as rock music's most thrilling drummer-vocalist: "Phil Collins is basically retired now, so I'm basically just trying to catch up with that guy.")
But the arrangement here is strictly friends-with-benefits, no strings attached. "I do miss the camaraderie, and I miss just being a drummer in a band," says Lerner, who got to be just that on the Portlandia tour with Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen last year. "But the way I have fun is writing and making these songs by myself, then taking them out on tour with my friends. That's just how it should be."