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Action Action shines as it defies, avoids clichés

Michele Jeffers | Thursday, February 23, 2006

These days it is common for bands on the same record label to keep the work within the family. Failed and frustrated band members often hook up with others to form a new group, hoping a new name and a fresh line-up will open Pandora’s box of rock.

But these cases of inbreeding often fail to produce anything more than the same old tune. So when the singer from The Reunion Show and the bassist and guitarist from Count the Stars (both on Victory Records) joined with the drummer of Diffuser, another pop-punk band would be the safely assumed result.

Action Action, however, is greater than the sum of its parts.

In 2004, Mark Kluepfel, Clarke Foley, Adam Manning and Dan Leo formed Action Action and signed with Victory Records. Action Action distinguished itself from the slew of pop-punk bands and sold 50,000 copies of its debut album – “Don’t Cut Your Fabric to this Year’s Fashion” – in the process. With the release of its sophomore album, “An Army of Shapes Between Wars,” Action Action has created a more complex sound. The result is a moody blend of dance-punk and new wave.

Action Action lead vocalist and songwriter Mark Kluepfel has a distinct and penetrating, yet somehow still soothing voice. He has a knack for twisting his stream of consciousness style of singing through vivid metaphors and recurrent images. His songwriting also seems to personify his own mitochondria as revolting against him.

The best comparison to the album would be a Stephen King novel supported by synthesizers. The songs continually refer to dreams, delusions and altered-consciousness. The album’s tone is overtly gloomy, but the layered instrumentals save it from being depressing. Songs like “What Temperature Does Air Freeze At” are more whimsical. “Sleep Paralysis” humorously segues into an Atari-esque bit in which the music sounds like a penguin swallowing a fax machine. This song is also featured on an arcade game on the band’s Web site, which allows those who play to unlock hidden tracks on the album which each level won.

The best song on the album is “120 Ways To Kill You: An Illustrated Children’s Book,” a bit of self-irony considering an earlier song asserted that “long and clever titles don’t bring a clever song.” The song begins with the drums drizzling behind Kluepfel’s distorted voice. The song gradually intensifies as layers of surging vocals and keyboards are added. Other standout tracks include “Smoke and Mirrors,” “Paper Cliché” and “The Game.”

With its style falling somewhere between The Killers and The Flaming Lips, the members of Action Action have surpassed their earlier work. Action Action has managed to create a catchy album that reaches a more substantial depth of meaning while maintaining its pop sensibilities.