When the first single from Telekinesis’s third album, Domarion, arrived, it was greeted with some mild consternation. Michael Benjamin Lerner’s first two albums were punchy, athletic pieces of guitar pop, anchored by their zig-zagging, syncopated riffs. So when “Ghosts and Creatures” came along, an airy synth ballad with an ethereal piano line and a steady – some might say plodding – drum machine, it was a startling change of pace for the songwriter. It wasn’t a bad song – Lerner’s sense of melody ensured that – but it wasn’t Telekinesis.
Those expecting Dormarion to be Lerner’s foray into the increasingly crowded pool of synth-poppers, however, won’t receive such a cut-and-dry answer. Right out of the gate, “Power Lines” utilizes one of Lerner’s favorite tricks, starting off with a lo-fi recording of his voice and an acoustic guitar before giving way to full bodied, blazing instrumentation. The synths are present, to be sure, but they play a purely supporting role, trading off one of the main melodies with Lerner’s vocal. And songs like “Dark to Light” and “Lassiez-Faire” are brief, snappy, and infectious, vintage Telekinesis that prove Lerner has lost none of his spark. For a good chunk of the album, we’re on familiar ground. Elsewhere, though, things get more complicated. Synth arrangements can’t hope to match Lerner’s bat-out-of-hell energy, so he smartly reserves the full-keyboard approach for his more subdued songs, “Ghosts and Creatures” and the Erasure/Flock of Seagulls-esque bouncer “Ever True.” Weirdly, though, as though to make up for the detour, other patches of Dormarion, such as the pounding “Empathetic People” and the swampy, terrific “Little Hill,” are some of the heaviest pieces of music Lerner has put to tape, with wailing, crunchy guitars that leave the sunshine of his first two records far behind.
Who knows what to make of Dormarion, then. Neither of Telekinesis’s first two albums were without their issues, but they were tightly wound and felt cohesive; Dormarion, by comparison, feels unfocused and unsure of itself. In the past, we knew exactly what we were getting with Telekinesis; now, instead, there are at least four different routes that Lerner could take next. Dormarion is a turning point, a signpost, but only time will tell where it’s pointing.
Track picks: “Power Lines,” “Dark to Light,” “Little Hill”