One of the most intriguing discoveries of the year is Michael Benjamin Lerner, the 22-year-old pop genius behind Telekinesis!, which released its self-titled debut last month.
Lerner was birthed on The Beatles. The debut's 11 tracks are steeped in hooky, ringing guitars that call to mind Big Star, songs flavored with the bittersweet, innocent, twee pop of Small Factory and Belle & Sebastian.
Its ache is fueled by a sense of uncertainty and thwarted possibility relieved only in Lerner's imagination. Much of this comes out through the album's insistent travel themes where he envisions the neon lights, bullet trains and bustling streets of the pulsing indie pop of "Tokyo," which is haunted by rain-spattered desolation.
He expresses a willingness to go to any length to escape, from the Andes Mountains to the "Great Lakes," and Lerner longs for the release of his baby's embrace, although separated by an entire continent, on "Coast of Carolina." During the bouncy "Look to the East," he confides, "We travel far and wide in search something / but it some cases something equals nothing / Don't get discourage, don't give up / I know we'll make it through the really hard part."
Lerner is apparently anxious to go someplace. Good thing Telekinesis! is on a tour that travels through Norman for a 9 p.m. Sunday show at the Opolis.
"A song like 'Tokyo,' which is somewhere I've never been, is more about thinking how weird it would be to be there," Lerner said. "I really want to go to a place like that which would totally make me uneasy and I couldn't talk to anybody, and lots of lights, and it's probably disconcerting and scary, but super- exciting. I really thirst for that whole uncomfortable factor of being a visitor in a city that is totally different from anywhere I'm from."
He had become a sought-after commodity well before he even started recording the debut album. Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla mentioned how much he loved Lerner's early version of "Coast of Carolina" on a Stereogum blog when Death Cab took over the music site for a week, and Lerner could barely keep Columbia Records reps from calling him throughout the recording, which Walla ended up producing. While Lerner considered the major-label offer, "it didn't feel like the right thing to do at this moment," he said.
Telekinesis! only recently became a full-fledged band. Most of the album was conceived in Lerner's Seattle practice space, where he fashions songs like one plays a video game: continually going back to the beginning, re-treading familiar territory until it's finished.
"I'll play 30 seconds of a guitar part of a bass part, or even a piano part, then track everything to it. I'll try to do a whole verse, and then I'll completely erase it and write a chorus, and then track the verse and the chorus, which will get erased. All of it keeps getting erased, probably three, four, five times before it's a full song, which usually happens within a day," he said. "It's a really spontaneous way to write, because you keep erasing things and you know that you can't go back and look at it again."
As if that weren't unusual enough, Lerner's the rarely seen singing drummer. He tried playing guitar while performing, but said he became "incredibly shaky and nervous out of mind." Behind the kit, he felt comfortable, although he still had to figure out how to sing while expending lots of energy pounding the skins.
"Adding another limb, like your voice, to the fold when already having four limbs doing different things wasn't really that challenging to do. The most challenging thing was finding a happy medium where I could breathe and not asphyxiate myself every night," he said. "Being a frontman in a band is something that's new to me, so it's kind of exciting to get up there."
Lerner's also excited about visiting Oklahoma for the first time and said he's particularly psyched about the Opolis because of its owners, The Starlight Mints.
"I love that band," he said. "The first Starlight Mints record, 'Dreams That Stuff Was Made Of,' didn't leave my car for two years straight. It's so good." "Chris Parker