Seattle indie rocker Michael Benjamin Lerner, who goes by the alias Telekinesis, has clearly gone through an emotional breakup in his time since his debut album Telekinesis!, released two years ago. Whereas some bands would make these times sound mopey or dismal on record, Lerner takes these times and creates songs that makes you want to turn up the volume, open the car windows, and smile while you feel the warm breeze flow in your hair on your trip to the beach. He masks them with such power pop intensity reminiscent of the mid to late 90s, it’s easy to forget all the songs here are about regret, deception, desperation, and angst.
Lerner and second-time producer Chris Walla of Death Cab take many different routes to get all of these affecting times across to the listeners. Instead of sticking to one genre, we get many different play styles from Telekinesis in two to three minute spurts. “Please Ask For Help” sounds like one of the better The Cure knockoffs out there. The Paul Simon-lyrically inspired song “50 Ways” plays like a classic Blue Album Weezer with its strong fuzzed guitar. Even the much slower paced Patterns sounds like an echo-y piano-influenced Flaming Lips song. It’s as if Lerner wrote down his ten favorite bands he wanted to replicate and made a song for each of them. He does leave a track or two that could have been on Telekinesis! like “Dirty Thing” and “I Got You” to distinguish himself from the rest of the album.
And while it might seem like borrowing all of these influences would knock down the album a couple points in originality, Lerner makes up for this with his fantastic ability to write insanely catchy pop hooks. For every track included on this album, when the song reaches the point that mentions the title, Lerner implements a radio-friendly, sing-along chorus that would be comfortably appropriate for mass radio play if he weren’t so lost under the All-American Rejects and Panic! At The Discos of the world. “Fever Chill” is a perfect example of this: when the song hits the “When we wake up / We wake up” interlude, it’s hard not to want to at least hum along to the chilling harmonies he creates. Even a song with a joyless subject like “Car Crash” shares its own memorable poppy moments with its “Whoa-oh-whoa”s.
Overall, 12 Desperate Straight Lines is definitely worth the listen. It might not be the most impressive album to come out so far this year, but if you’re looking to get more catchy power pop tunes stuck in your head, it’s hard to ignore this album. Telekinesis’ strong point is clearly the writing, so if Lerner can just work on what kind of music he wants to create with his words and stick with it, his third attempt at an album could be really outstanding. Meanwhile, 12 Lines is enjoyable enough to be worth its existence without seeming rehashed and a solid improvement over his debut. If there is one thing to take away from this album though, it’s that Michael Benjamin Lerner is really good at making dark times sound so enjoyable. Maybe a little too much.