Telekinesis 12 Desperate Straight Lines

[Merge; 2011]

Styles: breakup albums, post-grunge revival, indie pop
Others: Ben Kweller, Blood Red Shoes, Death Cab for Cutie

Talk about a peculiar turn of events. Just last month, I was lamenting the failure of would-be grunge rock revivalists to effectively pick up the threads of the 90s Seattle scene and refashion them into something culturally relevant to this cold, sleek, Steve Jobs-designed dystopia of the twenty-teens. Suddenly, as if in answer to my challenge, what falls into my lap but 12 Desperate Straight Lines. Those astute scholars of indie rock may recall Telekinesis, a.k.a. Michael Benjamin Lerner, from his 2009 self-titled debut, a bright, jangly dose of pure pop charm that, for my tastes, was too cutesy for its own good. But the intervening years, marred by anxiety over the potential sophomore slump, as well as a variety of minor personal crises, have given Lerner a more sober perspective, causing him to dial back some of the preciousness of his previous effort and push his sound into harder-rocking (dare I drop the g-word?) grunge territory.

The most satisfying fruits of Lerner’s newfound love of the distortion pedal show up in the album’s middle portion. “Car Crash” does an excellent job of marrying a tuneful chorus of “whoa-oh-ohs” with grunge dynamics, while “Palm of Your Hand” injects a shot of punk energy into his power-pop formula. “Fever Chill” provides a satisfying throwback to the flannel age by bookending a surly slow-build with a fleeting, rough-shod acoustic intro and coda. The only song that really steps over the line is “50 Ways,” Learner’s bitter, Paul Simon-inspired rumination on the inescapability of a lost lover. Banking too heavily on the LOUDquietLOUD shtick, he doesn’t really put enough of his own stamp on it, and the end result is a somewhat bland homage in the vein of Blood Red Shoes. Much more effective are “Please Ask for Help” and “Country Lane,” two songs that manage to channel the lovelorn wistfulness of The Cure better than any other indie band I’ve heard make the attempt in the past year (Blank Dogs, Asobi Seksu — I’m looking in your directions).

The primary impetus behind these songs is purportedly the dissolution of the relationship that inspired Telekinesis’ debut, so it’s no surprise that 12 Desperate Lines talks an awful lot about breaking up. Any reflective person with some experience in the dating scene knows that it only takes one person to torpedo a bad relationship, but dismantling one that’s truly meaningful? That’s a job for two. Therefore, any breakup album worth its salt needs to dilute its “bitch-done-me-wrongs” with a healthy dose of introspection. Lerner peppers the album liberally with admissions of his own culpability (”Let’s start all over/ Let’s go back to square one/ I never loved you/ I never loved anyone”; ”I fell fast and/ You fell faster/ It wasn’t true love/ just like that it/ was a disaster”), but for the most part he lacks the depth of insight to really stick his fingers down the throat of love and come up with the kind of squirm-inducing revelations that The Afghan Whigs or Local H (That’s right, Local. Fucking. H.) have done on similar efforts.

12 Desperate Lines takes tried-and-true radio rock tropes and imbues them with enough life to make them feel fresh. The slightly jaded perspective and raucous impulses Lerner brings to the record provides a much-needed counterbalance to the lightness and breeziness of his songwriting style. If this is the kind of work that a bitter breakup elicits from him, then I hope that Mr. Lerner will forgive me for saying that I hope he gets dumped on a regular basis for many years to come.

Links: Telekinesis - Merge

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