Wherein Michael Lerner finds a renewed sense of purpose, without losing sight of what has drawn listeners to his music in the first place.
”I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator…/ I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.”
-- “Losing My Edge”, LCD Soundsystem
The story behind Telekinesis’ fourth album goes that Michael Lerner went downstairs to his newly built basement studio one day only to find a serious case of writer’s block waiting for him. It wasn’t brought on by the domestic stability afforded by being recently married and planted out in the calm environs of West Seattle (a fine place to raise kids, by the way). No, it was guitars. Guitars, and power pop.
Lerner “started slowly but surely amassing a trove of synthesizers and drum machines,” as he explains in “AD INFINITUM or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Drum Machine”, a personal essay he wrote for Medium about the long process of creating the album. As he details in the piece, not only did he change up his primary songwriting instruments, he also recorded everything primarily alone. Previous Telekinesis records like 12 Desperate Straight Lines and, most recently, Dormarion from 2013, had all been assembled in a couple of weeks each in legit studios under the guidance of producers like Chris Walla, formerly of Death Cab for Cutie, and Jim Eno of Spoon.
The circumstances under which Ad Infinitum came together were somewhat the opposite. Lerner could take all the time he needed, but he was largely on his own. He did, however, have his friend Eric Elbogen (of Say Hi) to help him with both technical and creative issues. An offer also came in via his wife’s boss to work on the record in a more rural setting not too far outside of Seattle, at a property called Edgewood, which meant transplanting his home studio equipment and painstakingly assembled synthesizer-to-computer set-up. This time, the whole endeavor took months instead of weeks.
For all that, Ad Infinitum still sounds assuredly like a Telekinesis album. That is a good thing. For all the shake-ups in tools, geography, and staff, Lerner’s sense of melody has held steadfast. Dormarion was already factoring in keyboards and other elements, like on the standout single “Ghosts and Creatures”. Add to that the creeping pervasiveness of electro-pop in indie music, and at least a few fans might have seen this move coming more clearly than Lerner himself did. Ad Infinitum’s “Sylvia” might be driven by low end and programmed beats instead of the guitar line nicked from Robert Smith in 12 Desperate Straight Lines’ “Please Ask for Help”, but the two will play fine side-by-side live.
Indeed, the Cure remain one of Lerner’s easily spotted influences, embedded in the clipped “In Between Days”-esque synth run in the middle of the prime Telekinesis pogo “Courtesy Phone”, and the lonely overture of “Ad Infinitum Pt. 1”. More exemplary of the changes that Ad Infinitum does make is “Falling (In Dreams)”; its thumping pulse and ominous low waves coming on like his own personal macro-house response to artists like the Field and Isolee. “Sleep In” winningly channels Radiohead’s “All I Need” and a chilled out ‘90s electronica vibe. “It’s Not Yr Fault” gets its vintage ‘80s tension on, with arpeggiated synths and an elevating chorus.
But for every new twist, there’s an “Edgewood” or a “Farmer’s Road” to reassure the faithful. Familiarity has been one of Telekinesis’ consistent strengths. Lerner doesn’t try anything too fancy on Ad Infinitum, but the steps that he takes are confident and well measured, not hesitant. Finishing the record may have felt like an infinite process to Lerner, but the easy pleasures of tracks like first single “In a Future World (“In a future world / There’s nothing to say / In a kaleidoscope / A transit state”) don’t feel agonized over. He has freed himself up enough here to find a renewed sense of purpose, without losing sight of what has drawn listeners to his music in the first place.