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Telekinesis swaps guitars for synths, with arresting results

Vintage, dusty synthesizers are quite a departure for Michael Benjamin Lerner, a.k.a. Telekinesis. Essentially scrapping the power pop signifiers of his first three LPs, Lerner’s predilection for motorik beats and washes of analog synths are initially jarring throughout Ad Infinitum. Yet once you get past the surprise of this extreme instrumental turnabout, you’re left with the songs, which are among the most finely crafted and catchiest of his discography, albeit in an altogether reinvented sonic vernacular.

Lerner eases the listener in to his brave new world with the soft-as-a-beagle’s-ear vignette “Falling (In Dreams),” its mechanical pulsations and gentle synth washes recalling R.E.M.’s Up intro “Airportman,” as Lerner urges, “I will not forget something that I cannot forget.” He could well be addressing his innate melodic instincts, which fully blossom on “Sylvia,” finding Lerner proclaiming, “I could see the future from your bed,” before a bridge with a cinematic scope worthy of a John Hughes film kicks in, leading Lerner to lament, “I forget, you forget, we forget,” which is something of a motif throughout Ad Infinitum—the persistence of memories, and the urge to steer away from them, despite compulsions to the contrary.

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The record’s centerpiece is the coruscating “Sleep In,” a midtempo melancholic number on which Lerner keens, “I forget the feeling / I forget to look away,” as if he’s coming to terms with a cataclysmic event that he can’t avoid, no matter how much he wants to shield himself from it, like a car crash he can’t look away from. He eventually confesses, “I can see the sunrise on the wall / Holding the key to the broken bones,” intimating its inevitability with resigned contrition.

The ebullience of “Edgewood” emulates prime-era New Order, and its frivolity is a welcome respite from the gravitas of “Sleep In,” as Lerner beams of “antiquated evenings,” and a “brilliant surprise,” as synths and keyboards burst and bloom like a fireworks display, leading to the celebratory denouement, “We are, we are, coming down.”

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The juxtaposition of these two tracks illustrates the formidable strengths of Ad Infinitum—it’s an album rife with a warm human pulse belying its icy instrumentation, one with a vast emotional breadth conveyed with passionate élan by Lerner. The musical vehicle may have changed, but the man behind the lyrics, harmonies, and melodies hasn’t.

Ad Infinitum isn’t a palette cleanser or a holdover to the next conventional Telekinesis album—it’s a deeply affecting piece of work at a visceral level, suggesting that Lerner is an artist with crashing ambitions who’s willing to risk alienating his audience. Here, he succeeds spectacularly, auguring that evolution may well become the name of the game for an artist unfairly pigeonholed as a one-trick power-popster.

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