The most likeable aspect of Michael Benjamin Lerner’s solo project, Telekinesis, has been its back-to-the-basics approach: Sticking to cranked-up, hard-hitting guitars, drums, and bass, Lerner’s pop gems have relied on surging energy and loose execution to transcend the myriad electronic fads endlessly circulating through the indie-rock universe. On Dormarion, however, Lerner gives up his resistance to the synthesizer, obliging the current musical zeitgeist with keyboard-crafted atmospherics and now-ubiquitous resurrections of new wave. Though the desire to expand his musical repertoire is understandable, the new direction doesn’t feel particularly inspired or innovative, and detracts from the simpler pleasures he’s still quite capable of delivering.
Lerner begins his departure from three-piece power-pop in earnest on “Ghosts And Creatures,” a spacey piano-and-effects number that’s repetitive and flat rather than entrancing and ethereal. Things get more upbeat by the fuzzed-out pulse of “Ever True,” but its spectral flair of digitized orchestration and rigidly programmed drums makes the song more an inoffensive ’80s homage than anything independently memorable. For all the technological additions, Lerner is never quite able to break any new ground, which is especially disappointing given the inventive things producer (and Spoon drummer) Jim Eno once made happen with Mates Of State. Luckily, however, Dormarion never strays from Telekinesis’ rock blueprint too long, and retains quite a few agreeable cuts of uncomplicated pop gratification.
Opener “Power Lines”—sounding like a high-octane cover of Feist’s “Mushaboom”—surges with crunchy guitars, thunderous percussion, and just the right touch of synths to gloss up the hook. Meanwhile, after a couple of botched ballads on his first two records, Lerner nails one with “Symphony”; quivering a soft tenor over a relaxed, solo-acoustic strum reminiscent of Big Star, Lerner makes his most endearingly heartfelt effort to date. Most importantly, it’s on these songs where he feels most confident and engaged, indicating that he’s on his surest footing when being straightforward. Ultimately, because Lerner hasn’t bet all his chips on the electronica gamble, Dormarion has plenty to salvage amid the misguided trend-chasing.