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Action Beat
The Noise Band From Bletchley Frances Morgan , January 26th, 2009 07:16

Those of a psychogeographic bent might hope that Bletchley's premier noise band would evoke the town's history of wartime code-breaking and early computation, or maybe resonate with the pathos of its swallowing up by the hungry new town of Milton Keynes. A trio of lonely circuit-benders obsessed with post-war architectural blueprints and the sacred geometry of Bletchley's famed Blue Lagoon nature reserve, maybe. Debut album The Tabulating Machine out now on Ghost Box.

But psychogeography being an inventive strategy and all that, I guess a zillion peachy topless boys whooping it up around a giant concrete triceratops in front of some 1930s semis will do nicely – and it's hard to dislike a band who make such gleeful use of their limitations as Action Beat, doing a sterling job with the key ingredients of crap town and caprine over-enthusiasm. 'High Action' is what you might call paradigmatic of Action Beat's getting-pissed-in-the-adventure-playground take on minimalism, if you were a bit of a twat – the ten-strong band take a see-sawing Glenn Branca riff and whack the Banana Splits theme tune atop it, making for a scrappy, good-natured pileup between pop and no-wave skronk. Similar three-minute blasts populate much of the album, and are what Action Beat do best: simple, fast, pounding pop jams like 'Manic Face' and 'Daddy Pesty', on which the repetitions – often just a bunch of two-note riffs – sound both focused and feral, and with a Krautrockin' drive. The 'noise' of the album title is a bit of a red herring, consisting mostly of distortion and some clanging, detuned Sonic Youth guitar – in fact, Action Beat's best moments are the least noise-based. Attempts at heaviosity fare less well, with 'Dinosaur's churning guitar sludge lacking the courage of its convictions, despite the number of players and a nice bit of sax drone.

Of course, the attractive thing about large-scale groups is that sheer force of numbers can hide mistakes and/or different levels of musicianship, and make simple musical statements sound both more detailed and more powerful than they really are. However, 'simple' doesn't have to mean conventional; and the compromises involved in any large-scale band should, ideally, not be ones that you can actually hear. Action Beat are still at that stage where the manner in which they do what they do takes priority over actual content, an approach that works well live, but less so on record, where the varying nature and quality of the tracks makes it hard to lock in to the Action Beat groove, and easy to pick out lapses in imagination. A shorter collection of the hard, fast three-minute wonders or a full-on tantric live recording might justify the bare-chested bravado next time round, and ensure that 'semi' is used only to describe Action Beat's surroundings.