justify the hype
 charming snakes
 bender to bender
 sebadoh gigante
 a lesson learned
 not being good has never stopped me before
 hi kids
 lonely saturday
 judgement day
 taking attendance
 the man with the watermelon head
 justify the hype
 black dress
 gigantic sebadoh
 avenue of the action items (theme for video gaming)

love scenes
 insane attraction
 coney island maybe
 white stripes record
 love scene
 get up
 dyke parade
 i know you know
 i don't care
 midtown tonight
 pins and needles
 song for walking wall st.
 natural attraction

self-hate workshop
 natural, i guess
 sorry for myself
 ruin your life
 mason-dixon line
 a dollar or a day
 how much?
 little bit of coffee
 i like bad girls
 space song #14
 you talk too much
 i got high
 the best part
 ready to be
 you get stoked

changed my life
 love is great
 great big kiss off
 dominos fall
 don't go there, girl
 changed my life
 dear diary
 there is a song
 bus crush
 people with problems
 the picture
 i'm sorry
 power of will

happy or not, here we come
 hannah's packin'
 so it's a dream
 three days
 it's all your fault
 drop me off
 action items 1-12
 one thing more
 nothing better to do
 great big kiss off
 get it down
 hungover you
 wrong side of the fan
 it's hard
 thought i was pre-approved
 hannah's gone

missing in action

missing in action 2: evel a.w.o.l.

Love Scenes

At Demorama we hear so much bad music we are all in danger of committing suicide just to escape the schlock. “Love Scenes” by The Action Items came into my life just in time to stop me from committing Hari Kari. Yes, Mark, the head of this one-man-band, stayed the knife.

If I were to simply go by the cover of this album, what with its narcissistic placement of Mark (I assume) smooching some girl and his recommendation on the back to listen to the music while stoned, I’d have been tempted to give him a bad review. I could have written a litany that began with, “omygawd, like, don’t be so stuck on yourself.”

Luckily, I put the disc in my player, and discovered that Mark is simply too smart for his own good. With simple acoustic or electric guitar accompaniment, he uses his music to vent against the weird and frustrating parts of his bad-movie life.

He makes fun of everyone and everything yet delights in the bizarre, such as coming across a dyke parade or taking a sophisticated, supposedly depressed girl to Coney Island.

Mark’s singing is based on a single note, really, but that is ok. I like whiney voices. Besides, it makes a perfect platform for his lyrics about the self-absorbed trend followers he runs into in New York City. In many ways, Mark reminds me of Wally Pleasant.

Pleasant gets a lot of airplay on college radio stations, especially his “The Day Ted Nugent Killed All the Animals” song.

In a similar vein of incredulity, Mark’s song “White Stripes Record,” questions the inanity of those people who work so hard to be seen as interesting individuals yet really are just following another hip trend. But wait, isn’t making fun of these trends just another trend? I guess we are all victims of following someone.

As I listened through the 14-song CD, I found myself asking a lot of questions – about myself, and society – which was good.

“Screenplay,” a song about a friend of his who worked a temp job while writing a screenplay about a chick working a temp job to write a screenplay, made me question the very essence of my work for Demorama.

Mark sings, “every critic has their own agenda, I’ll admit I’m no exception.”

I asked myself, what am I doing this for? Maybe someday I’ll write a song to explain. -Vanessa Moore

Love Scenes

The ubiquitous Mark of The Action Items is one of the few guys that can consistently pull off humorous songs without being seen as a lightweight novelty act. The reason for this is threefold: there's more than enough musical strength to back up the tomfoolery, Mark is sly enough to sneak in a profound song here and there without losing his edge, and the lyrics are actually funny. Lines like "they make the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound like the No No Nos" are about as silly as it gets, and even that painfully obvious play on words made this typically stoic reviewer laugh the first couple of times.

That said, Love Scenes is pretty much what we've come to expect from The Action Items -- playful lo-fi indie rock with plenty of substance. Like most DIY-ers, Mark apparently records his every musical idea, with little regard for whether the general public will think it's important or not; this cavalier attitude makes for a few tracks of forgettable sonic flatulence, but the bulk of these fourteen songs are indeed worth your time. Most of the tunes are knee deep in guitar-laden indie rockisms, recalling REM, The Replacements and GBV, among others. Guitar tones are surprisingly clear and vibrant compared to the quality of the other instruments, and the simple drumming actually sounds real -- something that can't necessarily be said for past Action Items releases.

While the rip-roaring distortion of "Pins And Needles" and "Insane Attraction" are punchy enough to quell any sudden urges to rock out, the songs in which Mark tones his sense of humor down a tad are invariably the strongest. "Love Scenes" is particularly compelling, both as a remedial course in bare-bones pop aesthetics and in its lyrical conceit, which extends an overplayed metaphor -- "life is a movie" -- to the point of silliness ("the acting's deplorable" and "the dialogue sucks"). But it's not all silly business; there is also a nugget of truth tucked away in this song, as Mark muses that for much of life we "fidget in our seats, waiting for the love scene". The lyrics are so simple, and yet so obviously true, that you may wonder why you didn't write them yourself. And then you realize something -- Mark is The Action Items because he asked himself the same question and decided to do something about it, making Love Scenes a testament to the dormant artistic ability that all of us possess but few of us dare to tap into.- Phillip Buchan

Delusions of Adequacy
Self-Hate Workshop

Once again, I review with a smile on my face thanks to the wonderful simplicity of the Action Items. Finally settled down from last year's move from Portland to New York, Mark's back with another batch of high quality, low-fidelity apartment recorded tales. For those new to the Action Items, the concept is simple - the Action Items, essentially, are Mark, an intelligent, hopelessly romantic guy with penchants for simple chords, catchy rhythms and quirky lyrics. Occasionally, Mark's friend Dave helps out with organic drum tracks, though the majority of stuff here is centered around Mark's plaintive voice and guitars.

As the title of the disc would imply, Mark's sense of self-depreciation is still pretty evident here, especially on tracks like the album opening "Natural, I Guess," where Mark croons, "I really hate my stupid songs." One would think listening to personal put-downs like these would be painful to listen to (*cough*cough*LIMPBIZKIT*cough*cough*), but Mark's guitars tracks are too damned catchy for that.

Much like the last Action Items project, Changed My Life, the best tracks on Self-Hate Workshop (both musically and lyrically) come when Mark publicly evaluates his romantic notions. His direct honesty is refreshing one moment ("I wanna be sympathetic when you've had a shitty day" on "The Best Part") and brutal the next ("When you get tired of f**king sh*t up, go ahead and give me a call…I won't help you ruin your life" from "Ruin Your Life").

On "Mason-Dixon Line," Mark puts a historical twist on a relationship, singing, "I'll be the Union, you be the Confederacy / But I won't stop you when you try to secede." The riff is catchy, and the lyrical parallel between the Civil War and a relationship is so geeky that it's positively endearing (and since I consider myself to be something of a 'professional geek,' I feel qualified to make that assertion). Still, though, Mark's finest moment here comes in a haze of indecision. "Sorry For Myself" is the ultimate lovesick slacker folk anthem, a sparse guitar and vocal track where Mark relates, "I don't feel like being high today, but I don't feel like being down." The lyrics bounce back and forth between being indifferent about his personal feelings to acknowledging that he's wasting his emotions feeling sorry for himself, creating a quirky two-minute dive into a bi-polar rhythm that's impossibly catchy for these lyrics.

Keeping with another common theme of the Action Items' previous work, Mark's included a few 'Hannah songs' on Self-Hate Workshop as well (check the band's website for sparse details about Mark's Hannah syndrome). "Little Bit of Coffee" is a cute acceptance statement to the unexplainable quirks that someone finds in a confidante ("She only likes a little bit of coffee / But she always gets a big cup anyways"), though "You Talk Too Much" is a bit less accepting of other simplicities (the lyric "I was gonna tell you 'bout my undying affection but YOU TALK TOO MUCH" is beyond hilarious in context). Still, even without a Hannah or a relationship or an off the wall observation to work with, Mark can pull a gem out of nowhere, as evidenced by the simplistic vocal and guitar lament, "Ready to Be."

Nothing about Self-Hate Workshop is fancy or even all that intricate. Simply put, the true essence and meaning of the Action Items is Mark from New York writing catchy three- and four-chord rhythm riffs while pouring out the things in his heart that mean the most to him, and all truths being told, that in and of itself means something to me. For honest, heartfelt, catchy music, it doesn't get better than the Action Items. - Gary

Self-Hate Workshop

The Action Items are mostly a guy called Mark and his unassuming little lo-fi indie pop ditties. With a voice that uncannily recalls David Berman of the Silver Jews (with a little Hayden and Lou Barlow thrown in for good measure), Mark offers fifteen endearing songs about love, life and forcefields (among other things). Although some of his lyrics border on silly, there's nothing here that quite crosses the line into cringe-inducing-ness. The main thing that mars Self-Hate Workshop is the fact that most of the songs lack a real drummer. Evidently most of them were recorded after Mark left Portland, Oregon for New York, and he recorded them there, by himself, in his "tiny, expensive room". Although songs like "Space Song #14" get by just fine with no drums at all, otherwise solid efforts like "A Little Bit of Coffee" and "Forcefield" are taken down a peg by their cheesy canned beats. On the other hand, the songs in which a real drummer is featured, such as "I Like Bad Girls" and "Mason Dixon Line", are unequivocally enjoyable.

Although there's not much here that distinguishes The Action Items from any other bedroom-recorded indie project, there are hints, such as the guitar hook in "Forcefield" or the keyboard drone that slowly takes over the voice-and-acoustic-guitar ballad "Space Song #14", that given time (and a real drummer), Mark will produce some very interesting music. - Jeremy Schneyer

Changed My Life

Another sweet, small slice of life from The Action Items, whose Happy Or Not, Here We Come! CD was a highlight of 2001's lo-fi offerings. Enlisting Dave on "real drums," Mark rocks out a bit harder (where did all the surnames go, long time passing) without sacrificing the wry, wistful self-effacement that made Happy Or Not so endearing. Smart turns of phrase and ear-tickling melodies make Changed My Life an easily enjoyable pick for any indie-pop enthusiast; fans of Sebadoh, Jonathan Richman and Graham Parker should take special note.

Shredding Paper
The Action Items (Changed My Life)

This might be what Creeper Lagoon would sound like if they didn't have abloated studio budget and carte blanche from a major label to record 24 guitar parts on each song. The vocals and melodies of The Action Items resemble Creeper, as well as their ability to write catchy, anthemic songs that never feel dumbed down. Quiet but not meek, the 15 songs have balance and variety on their side. The songs are instantly hummable, built around basic acoustic guitar chords, with clever and immediately identifiable lyrics, like this, my favorite couplet from "Mediocre": "Money ain't magic, it's just paper and plastic/And it can't make a shitty feeling into something more." Simple? Absolutely. But it's totally refreshing at the same time. And "Bus Crush" is just an outstanding, awkward, funny and honest tale of "public transportation infatuation." Scott

Delusions of Adequacy
The Action Items (Changed My Life)

Just as with the 4-song promotion EP that preceded it, Changed My Life thrives on simplicity. This 15 track, 35-minute release winds along a path of acoustic ditties and jangly, drum-machine backed electric numbers. The simplicity, of course, comes out of necessity, it seems. The Action Items are only made up of one very talented fellow named Mark, although his friend Dave occasionally lends some 'real drums' to the mix (i.e. "Great Big Kiss Off," also from the promotional EP). According to the information on The Action Items' website, Mark is a pretty prolific writer. Thus, the simplicity of the recordings seems necessary for him to continue churning his work out as fast as he can write it.

Changed My Life is not about being a guitar hero or a feedback king; the songs here are cute, and Mark plaintively sings them not like songs, but like autobiographical stories. Most of the tracks don't linger too long over obsessive concepts...They only stick around for two minutes or so - just long enough to tell a story, barely leaving enough time for the story to settle in before the next chapter begins.

It seems that Mark's had some issues with love in his life - either that, or he's read a lot of tragically romantic books lately. Most of the record seems to be about falling in love, already being in love, talking about how wonderful love, is or doubting his ability to love without bad results. The disc opens with "Love is Great," which opens with Mark admitting "I always thought that when I grew old / I would grow increasingly callous and cold." He puts the whole concept into perspective though, declaring, "I always hoped that it would turn into something / But love's free / And what do you expect for nothing?" "Domino's Fall" is a darkly sweet misunderstood love song, with most of the 'dark' supplied courtesy of an oddly disconcerting echo effect that backs up the track.

The title track here is eerily reminiscent of Bob Dylan, with a few intricate acoustic guitar rhythms woven into a tapestry that wraps around Mark's quietly emotional voice. "Dear Diary" is unintentionally humorous to anyone who knows how Mark feels when he sings lines like "Funny how you know that it's over / When all you want is your stuff back / And you don't think that you'll get it." For a song with a story this sad, the song itself is really upbeat (plus, the "ba-ba-ba" backing vocals are the perfect touch here). "There is a Song" is the most abrasive track on the disc (though the term "abrasive" is being used rather lightly here), with fuzzy rocking rhythm guitars and a lot of layered over guitar noodles.

The finest moment of this disc, however, is the catchy trot of "Bus Crush," where Mark proclaims his love for his "public transportation infatuation." The lyrics are just hopelessly sweet ("Giving up your seat / To try to win some points with Bus Crush / And riding 10 blocks past your stop"), and the song has a slow roll not unlike My Drug Hell's "Girl at the Bus Stop." This song completely rules. "Motivation" leans on a fuzzy pop rhythm guitar riff, while "People With Problems" breaks out the "ba-ba-ba" backing vocals again to great effect. The best lyric of the album? "People with problems date people who have problems, too / That's why I'm dating you." Ouch. Mark rules.

"The Picture" is a toe-tapping, jangly rocker, while "I'm Sorry" really quiets things down while Mark apologizes for screwing up a friendship. Friendship? Yup, friendship. "I'm Sorry" seems way too honest and to-the-point to be relationship-oriented. Even on a disc full of abbreviated all-about-love songs, this one prominently stands out. The unlisted 15th track sends the disc out on a slow groove, with Mark telling a former lover, "I don't wanna go back in time / I don't want you to be mine again / I just wanna be your friend and know that you miss me." Even in a relationship aftermath, the guy still comes off as a hopeless romantic sweetheart.

Changed My Life completely rules. Mark's Action Items project is some of the catchiest, most listenable lo-fi singer/songwriter stuff of the past year, easy. The lyrics to "Bus Crush" and "People With Problems" alone are worth owning this CD for, and the music is as easy to hum as any contemporary pop music. Any fan of simple little misunderstood love songs will totally dig Changed My Life. - Gary

Action Attack Helicopter
The Action Items (Changed My Life)

Passion over prowess: an important ideal for any punk rock musician. The fact that a band can totally suck and still succeed is intriguing to many but usually works only when the players recognize the suck factor themselves (Possible exceptions: Biz Markie, Right Said Fred, and Wesley Willis). It's cool to be all thumbs and not know what you're doing, as long as you realize your own vulnerability and use it to your advantage. Just ask the Cramps, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, or Bob Dylan. On that note, from Portland comes this collection of poorly sung, acoustically based songs mostly about bad relationships and self-help. I really enjoyed this. Even when the singer is sincere, his snotty and weathered voice manages to sound sarcastic. "Well, love is great/It brings us together/Love is awesome/But it don't last forever" ("Love is Great") says it all. Recommended to fans of Beat Happening, the Doses, Franklin Bruno, AM/FM, etc. For more info, go to www.theactionitems.com. -Jeremiah

The Action Items (4 song ep)

Awwwww, it's so cute. I'm such a sucker for things like 3" mini-CDs. There's always something weird about getting an EP on a regular sized CD; mini-CDs take care of that nicely. This one has four songs on it. They're pretty normal sounding DIY rock, with nice indie boy vocals, semi-fuzzy guitars and minimal drums. While the music is regular, the songs themselves are pretty neat; the vocals are fun and they have silly/clever lyrics that help make up for the rather murky sound quality. "I guess this means you're pissed off, I guess this is the great big kiss off, But I don't mind if you're kissing my behind or simply kicking it, 'Cause I don't give a shit." That's the whole of "Great Big Kiss Off". Okay, it's not exactly a masterwork, but in the context of the song it works pretty well! Nothing super distinctive here -- just personable, good-natured indie rock. -- ib

Delusions of Adequacy
The Action Items (4 song ep)

Everything about The Action Items is simple. This EP (pressed on a cool 3" mini-CD, I must mention) came to me in a basic black sleeve with a simple black and white picture on the front. All of the fonts used on the various labels and track listing sheet are very, very basic, with everything typed in all lowercase. There are a few basic pictures scattered, including one of a Hostess truck and another of what may possibly be the cutest girl I've ever seen in my life on the mini-CD's actual plastic protection sleeve.

Matter of fact, everything about The Action Items is simple. The band consists of one man who only goes by Mark. Judging from the note Mark enclosed with this EP, he seems like a really polite and shy guy. The music is really polite, too, ranging from quiet and reflective to jangly and (dare I say) boppy over the course of these four songs. Album opener "Great Big Kiss Off" is the only song with a real 'band' feel to it, as Mark's friend Dave plays 'real drums' on the track. The guitar riffs are basic and catchy, and Mark's voice somewhat recalls Bob Dylan as the vocals flow over the head-bobbing rhythm. The real kickers here, though, are the sweetly out-of-place "ooooohhhhhh" interludes between Mark's calls for "the great big kiss off" that end the song. "Mediocre" is the truest singer/songwriter tune here, a short acoustic number that manages to be endearing without sounding whiny. Mark bemoans that "Money ain't magic / It's just paper and plastic / And it can't make a shitty feeling into something more" before admitting, "I don't wanna die mediocre and bored."

"Don't Go There Girl" returns to the jangly, upbeat guitar feel of the opening track, albeit this time with a drum machine backing him up. This track sounds like something that would come out of a garage collaboration between Elvis Costello and Guided By Voices. The rhythm guitar is fuzzy and catchy, while the lead piece is accentuated with the cute high-pitched doo-wop-ish backing vocals. The acoustic "Power of Will (Boy Band Ballad)" ends the EP with a folky, reflective piece that takes on a campfire sing-along feel thanks to the multi-tracking on Mark's voice. The lyrics tell the story of reflections on a relationship brought on by a period of personal growth, and Mark manages to get his point across without seeming melodramatic.

Simple. Simple, simple, simple. None of the four tracks here breaks the three-minute barrier, and I really do believe the tracks were home-recorded and mixed by Mark himself. This EP is really, really cute and endearing - just like a schoolgirl crush. Listening to The Action Items reminded me of sitting in my bedroom as a 14-year-old, trying to word a puppy dog love letter to an unrequited crush. I'm so buying this band's full-length CD.

The Action Items (4 song ep)

Ok, I gotta admit that the girl they put on the cover thing for this little disc (and I do mean "little" - it's one of those cd single sized things that look like a Catholic communion wafer) had my immediate and undivided attention - which allows for the time it takes for me to toss the thing into the disc to give these guys a whirl (hey, good taste is good taste). Funny thing is, it only took a few seconds of "Great Big Kiss Off", the first cut, to stop looking and stick to listening. After more than a decade of folks who all seem to love Paul Westerberg making really poor imitation records it's nice to hear a band that sound like they know who the Replacements were but have no intention on trying to become them. The Action Items have a pretty firm grip on songwriting and keep it loose when it comes to playing these songs. There may be only four songs on this tiny little wafer of a disc, but they surely (now) have me interested in knowing whether they're able to sustain such fine work in a longer setting. - KV

Review Nuggets from Don Campau's No Pigeonholes Show
Love Is Great 3" CD
A wonderful 2 song 3" CD with excellent vocals and production.

demo universe
Happy Or Not, Here We Come! (cd)

Armed with a guitar, a cheap multi-track recorder and the near-obligatory Casio, Mark traces the arc of a failed love in this unassuming but very personal home recording. Bitterness and regret abounds, but expressed with more shrug than snarl; as Mark makes clear in "Hannah's Gone," the relationship was doomed from its inception:

you were packin' from the get-go
i spent all my time getting ready to let go
i could see you leaving from the start
every thing about you said "i'm ready to blow"
try to tell me something that i don't know
i could see you leaving from the start

It is a testament to his song writing skills that Mark doesn't come off as self-pitying while singing such lines (although Hannah might disagree). I may be deluded, but after listening to Happy Or Not I feel close to Mark - and I like him. According to his web site (where all lyrics can be had), Mark has a new CD called Changed My Life; wouldn't mind hearing that.