The dread of the sophomore album is a common affliction among new artists, and in early 2009, Michael Benjamin Lerner was no exception. Excitement about the success of Telekinesis! left Michael feeling edgy and restless when it came time to write new songs. The long-distance relationship that inspired his debut album's songs of wanderlust had ended, a mystery ailment had rendered him physically off-balance and (thankfully, only temporarily) deaf in one ear, his touring van had been severely damaged in an accident, and he had just returned from a much-needed "escape" to Berlin in the dead of winter where he had banished himself to a room in the warehouse district to write songs from 9 to 5 each day. Always attempting to capture a specific moment or feeling with his songwriting, Michael spent no more than a day on each song. However, he was still a couple of songs short of an album that he could be happy with.
Michael describes his method of songwriting as "heart on my sleeve," so trying to write more "super-pop" songs just wasn't working while his life was such a mess. He took a few months off, let his balance return, fixed his van, and went on tour, returning energized and ready to head back into the studio.
Continuing their partnership from Telekinesis!, Michael and producer Chris Walla again recorded to analog tape. They tossed out all the rules-as they are wont to do when they get together-and, as Michael says, "went a little crazy," spontaneously dancing and recording drum parts backwards. Walla shared his love of Mark Robinson's Flin Flon project (specifically, the 1998 Teenbeat album A-OK), and Michael became enthralled with the fuzzed-out bass sounds. For the first time, he used his new bass guitar to write songs, and Michael's characteristic Telekinesis pop hooks combined with his darker lyrics, giving the music a decidedly rocking direction.
"50 Ways," which Michael describes as "the most complicated song I've ever written," uses a reference to Paul Simon's tongue-in-cheek breakup song "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" to express the anger and frustration of leaving someone but still seeing them everywhere you go. "Please Ask for Help" was inspired by listening to The Cure's Disintegration on repeat. Michael used what he calls "that dirty bass line" to evoke the "weird lust" he imagines swirling around in a seedy bar on a Saturday night.
The result of all of this is 12 Desperate Straight Lines, twelve new songs of heartache, anger, and even a little hopefulness. With lyrics like "I cannot love you" and "I never loved you," it's not hard to guess that this is a breakup album, but Michael's indomitable optimism shines through in the infectiousness of the music and in the final words of the final track, "Gotta Get It Right Now": "And it's alright, if it means nothing / Cuz it meant something, anyway."
The new Telekinesis band features Jason Narducy (Robert Pollard band, Bob Mould band) on bass and Cody Votolato (Jaguar Love, The Blood Brothers) on guitar.