[25 October 2004]
You can see them coming from a mile away. The salon-cut hair combed forward; one of them is wearing a suit jacket with a t-shirt and jeans; there’s a white belt and somebody wearing a tucked in, buttoned-up t-shirt with a pattern so uncool that by wearing it, it becomes cool again. Yep, that’s right, it’s a dancepunk band, and unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past few years, they’re the one of the hottest new trends in indie rock.
The story goes something like this: Mark Thomas Kleupfel, tired of the “empty calorie” songs he was writing and playing with his former band, the Reunion Show, left to craft the songs that were closest to his heart in a new project, Action Action. Recruiting two members of labelmates Count the Stars, Kleupfel holed up in Pie Studios and Allaire Studios (housed in a haunted mansion no less) to record Don’t Cut Your Fabric to This Year’s Fashion. Cyndi Lauper producer William Wittman manned the boards, and the group employed a wide array of synthesizers and effects. The lengthy one-sheet adds that Wittman recorded in “true stereo” and that the group was visited by “unknown presences” while at Allaire. With all this back story, and big-league production at work, the surprise that comes when listening to Don’t Cut Your Fabric to This Year’s Fashion is how tepid it is.
Proclaiming their music to be “sheer dance-ability”, everything about this recording feels labored. For dancepunk to succeed it has to come off as spontaneous and effortless. Unfortunately for Action Action, every drum fill, every keyboard swirl, feels obvious. Additionally, the tempo is astonishingly slow, the mood astoundingly dour. On “Drug Like”, the chorus finds Kleupfel singing: “The world falls apart in just seven days / It sinks to the bottom in oceans of rain / The cure is so clear the blood is astray / And everyone dies except for the rain / And I think that I’m starting to scare myself.” Elsewhere he sings: “Feel it running on and on / I’ve broken down” (“Broken”); “I’m so dumb so very numb / I can’t tell who why or what I’ve already done” (“Let’s Never Sleep Again”); “Hold your knife against my throat cut me deeper / Feel the blood drip down your arm darling” (“Eighth-Grade Summer Romance”). If Kleupfel wanted to suck the life out of the party, he just did with his high school poetry masquerading as lyrics.
The band hits their stride only once on the disc, with the upbeat AM rocker, “Photograph”. A positively upbeat, love-gone-wrong song, it’s a jubilant number that stands awkwardly among the rest of the album. Complete with a driving synth and Kleupfel’s inspired singing and nicely placed backing vocals, the song is an out and out success that is not duplicated on the rest of the album.
From their one-sheet to the garish pink and green record design, Don’t Cut Your Fabric to This Year’s Fashion presents itself as the next dancepunk phenomenon. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, Kleupfel forgot the fun that is an essential ingredient for this style to work. Even more odd is Wittman’s meticulous, but energy-drained production work. For a producer who worked with Cyndi Lauper, that pop spark is missing here completely. Unfortunately for dancepunks across the nation, Action Action’s debut release is a party killer.