The Action Items – Changed My Life

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.