TELEKINESIS Latest in the line of singing drummers.
Kyle Johnson

"FIRST OF ALL, it's fucking crazy that I've made three records already," says Michael Lerner. While it's easy to interpret this as excessive humility—a quality the Seattle-based multi-instrumentalist often exhibits—he has a point. Since he began cutting records nearly five years ago under the name Telekinesis, Lerner's averaged one record every two years. "That's a monumental achievement for me, personally," he continues. "I mean, I'm a drummer—I had never planned on being a songwriter, so whenever I write another song, it doesn't matter if it sounds exactly like the other ones I've written, it's just like, 'Oh my god, I've done it.'"

In spite of Lerner's initially modest expectations for the project, Telekinesis was first discovered and cultivated by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/producer/secret weapon Chris Walla and picked up by Merge when Lerner was 22. The resultant debut LP, 2009's Telekinesis!, catapulted the unassuming songwriter and his "silly love songs" to the forefront of the indie rock vanguard. Telekinesis' second record, 2011's seemingly sunny but essentially wounded12 Desperate Straight Lines (also produced by Walla), was even better; while stylistically it remained within the stringent guitar pop guidelines established by its predecessor, it undoubtedly indicated Lerner's maturation as a songwriter.

His latest full-length, Dormarion, is (mostly) more of the same—although this one is produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno—and that's (mostly) a really good thing. The result is by no means a dramatic departure from prior efforts, but tracks like the kinetic, made-for-Urban-Outfitters "Ghost and Creatures" and the New Order-as-interpreted-by-Eric-Carmen "Wires" flirt with previously unexplored ideas.

"I think I got into a rut of thinking I could only make power-pop music, but every time I would sit down at the piano and try to write a simple, piano-based song, it ended up sounding sort of contrived... and just plain bad," Lerner says. "Jim's responsible for a lot of those little flourishes. He made those songs sound way better than I could have imagined, and fulfilled his role as producer in the greatest sense, which is awesome—which is what I needed."

Live, Telekinesis is constantly changing (Lerner even once resorted to Craigslist in a fruitless attempt to assemble a performing lineup), but the current incarnation is possibly the most star-studded to date, featuring Erik Walters of the Globes, Rebecca Cole of Wild Flag, and Say Hi's Eric Elbogen. "It's been crazy so far, there have been at least five different versions of this band," says Lerner. "It's just such a weird way to have a band—it's not even really a band, because it's constantly changing, but it's been really exciting for me, and I get to play with so many different musicians, and it's exciting to see each band's distinct interpretation of what are ultimately just these silly little songs I write."