Action Figures Action Figures

[Bootleg Tapes; 2015]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: VHS-psychedelia, nonmusic-improv
Others: KFC City 3099: Pt.1 Toxic Spill, Parallel Visitation

“We are in open circuits.”
– Nam June Paik

The absence of most Mary Shelly’s literary themes in 1931’s Frankenstein is what created a monster that is classically recognizable today. In 1990, RoboCop 2 got strip-searched and hot-wired to juxtapose his immediate — and previously 100% — good-nature. When Dark Side of the Rainbow hit psyches in 1973, The Wizard of Oz was changed forever. That week, when AceMo and Dali Vision were snowed into their apartment with a stack of VHS tapes, they hooked up an SP-404 and a pedal board to a VCR, and began a collaborative project called Action Figures, which I assumed stopped them from killing each other.

Action Figures, given the context and origin of their sound, holds traces of gestures of digi-spatial violence, cybernetics at work on the body. There’s an inferred feedback loop, an activated figure breaching, transmuting and giving life to a figurative action of extensive exostosis.
– DeForrest Brown Jr.

Throughout that bunker of a week, Action Figures took live samples from these movies, used contrasting film-genres while pairing sounds, and mixed them with a 4-track recorder — as one would solve a puzzle. This process infuses their modality of translating art by way of skill, participation, and patience. This is Action Figures’ exterior, at their most basic. Without reading into their music-making process, Action Figures would remain a primitive piece of original work, presenting itself to listeners as if it were another noise or abstract ambient album, invoking a charm of evil, spiritually. Yet, the music is not as adrift in idea, as the conceptual aspect of the release is something more like reading this whole review in Blade Runner font. The three important conceptual aspects of Action Figures I’d like to touch on directly and/or metaphorically are: comedic timing, entrapment, and detachment.

“People buy the cookie-dough roll and slice it, and then they lay it on a cookie sheet. That’s not making chocolate-chip cookies.”
– Amy Sedaris

Since AceMo and Dali Vision are graduates of studio production (both coming from a childhood of listening to jazz, both jazz musicians), they have a good sense of improvisation. On Action Figures, the two build up and work around the use of comedic timing to favor and pair specific sounds in order to trip-up listeners. This “trip-up” is common to genres like EDM, beat music, and the avant-garde, but generally this trick’s intent is to snap listeners back into the music, after having put them through something repetitious or intentionally drawl. I consider this to be the definition of sonic psychedelia: less drastic than a heavy hit of DMT and more like something so unexpected that humor overwhelms the audience’s sense of listening and are struck with immediate euphoria.

The euphoria developed throughout Action Figures’ debut is attributed to the faux-psychosis it festers within listeners using maximized layers of samples. It’s like the way heat effects people by way of wanting to go out, but then ice cream sales and murders go up. Or being given directions by someone using a language you’re unfamiliar with followed by your crazy “I’m fucked!” laugh. By balancing the humor between overabundance and psychedelia, Action Figures atones for flagrant thematic direction through their focus on how their music shifts itself, drawing listeners’ attention to the construction of their album.

“Nostalgia is a dysfunction of the historical impulse, or a corruption of the historical impulse.”
– William Gibson

As Action Figures coerce listeners to hear the construction of their album via sound-play, they also entrap audience-ears through the materialization of immediate conflict and nostalgia. Considering Action Figures was created during a block of time when both AceMo and Dali Vision were stuck inside an apartment, the intention of using sounds from familiar-but-juxtaposing movies ensnares listeners’ curiosity. Many can just immediately input, “Wait, was that The Exorcist or a piano?” Yet, it was probably neither, because it was actually RoboCop exiting his Ford Taurus through a smattering of effects. Action Figures’ game of memory relies upon their sounds to instigate casual listener examination between recognizable snippets and blown-slowed sounds.

You’ve got to get out of your mind / It’ll never get out of my mind.
– All The Things You Were

This curiosity teeters a tip that allows audience members to fall forth upon a quest of investigative thoughts. One thought could trigger those last few drags taken before leaving Gina at her job. It could be that unfamiliar cooking sound and not knowing what’ll be on the dinner table. What you think the first interview with a machine would sound like. Or mixing up The Last Boy Scout with Bullet Proof. Basically, Action Figures stems from a culture you’ve been sold on throughout your life, but it only garners their distinct sensibility as unique musicians by turning these sounds toward a territory that’s only marginally familiar — like picking up a book you haven’t read since the age of four, but only NOW you understand what it’s about.

“Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art.”
– Susan Sontag

Action Figures is that face you were making as a child while thinking of how you’d look today. It’s like gluing toys together in the name of production and reappropriation. There’s a detachment element to what listeners hear in Action Figures akin to figuring out how every television show is a gimmick based on addiction and multimedia marketing. Or the feel when a white person does racist humor. Action Figures’ trajectory is intentionally non-immediate, but based around the immediacy of improvisational mixing and sound-clip sourcing. Just give this a try for detachment’s sake: listen to this entire album doing something, anything: writing, working, driving, tanning, eating, showering. Action Figures give their audiences two choices during the album’s duration: (1) ignore the sounds inhabiting your thoughts like a maniac thinks about a Saturday afternoon block of cartoons, or (2) accept what is being played, but ignore the feeling of lashing out into the air with fists, crying unintentionally, or laughing uncontrollably. Make the straightest face you can muster up. Action Figures just made nonmusic consumable.

Links: Action Figures - Bootleg Tapes


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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