Actionesse: ‘The Deep, Bright Below’

The cover for Actionesse's 'The Deep, Bright below. Design by NODRA and Actionesse.
The Deep, Bright Below cover. Design by NODRA and Actionesse

Actionesse’s music has been distilling for the past three years, pressurized, condensed, and fissioned, the result of which is, in a word, punishing. The Deep, Bright Below (releasing Friday, April 12th via Den Tapes), their debut lp, pummels your senses for just a hair under half an hour with relentless “post-horncore,” a fitting term coined by Actionesse itself. And what other descriptor could they use? They sound like nothing else for miles around. They’re special.

Ten frenetic capsules are linked by themes of self-destruction, broken relationships, the futility of life, and secrets spilled, an infuriated introvert lording over themselves and everyone else. The lyrics are crazed and cracked, fragmented glimpses raggedly spat out mostly by guitarist Ian Reed but also gnawed by bassist Paddy Moran at intervals. There is one instance of humor, and that’s in the album’s final song, “Permanent Headache:”

The old man’s got his foot stuck in something again
And all we hear is the sound of country music
You can’t break every neon light

The balance of words, however, is supremely and stubbornly negative. Paired with music that is rapid and feverish, the end result of consumption is a high heart rate and and imperative to throw your body around, which is easily observable at any Actionesse show.

This recording finds the band sounding lean and wiry, especially when comparing the five newly re-recorded tracks previously heard on the EP Deep. Deep sounds more chonky and swaggery, while The Deep, Bright Below leans into the higher end of the equalizer, coming out sounding more compressed. Reed pushes his vocals harder, straining through his screams on fresh takes on “Menace” and “Fully Clothed-Slightly Concussed.” On “Menace,” things are crystal clear when Reed shouts “DON’T! YOU! CALL! ME SHALLOW!!!,” while on “Fully Clothed” he gets so wound up it’s hard to decipher his words right off the bat (it’s “Bones are numb/ Tongue is broken/ Eyes wide at the chance to choke” if you’re wondering). Any quiet moments in this album are either the short breaks between songs (no fadeouts) or presages of an assault of noise to come.

Actionesse (photo by Christine Mitchell)

The production here is delightfully minimal, in fact. Recording engineer Simon Nicol seems to have a particular knack for capturing a natural yet powerful drum sound. It sounds like you’re sitting next to Jimmy Colven as he plays, each beat coming across crisply while at the same time sounding completely organic. The same can be said for the rest of the instruments; this is almost exactly what Actionesse sounds like live: a careering, soaring maelstrom of fury.

Oh yeah, and there are horns. Make no mistake: it is the brass that puts the “esse” in Actionesse. I dare you to name another current band that uses horns in such a consistent and unique way. In Seattle itself, Constant Lovers may break out a trumpet once in a while, and The True Loves make great, time-honored soul grooves. But the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that is Joel Kenworthy and Olivia Guinn’s horn section mashed up with punk hardcore madness is singular and worthy of your attention. Kenworthy’s alto sax and trombone work dots the i’s and crosses the t’s in Actionesse, and Guinn’s baritone sax (a relatively new addition) fleshes out the low end in a way that brings a new electricity to the band both on the album and in their live shows.

There are zero bad tracks on this album. There are a few standouts, though, among them “Menace” (you can listen to this one below), “Unplanned Obsolescence,” and the dirgey “Well Adapted Creature.” But really, the entirety of The Deep, Bright Below hangs together very well, and it flies by so quickly that you’ll simply press “repeat.” Again. And again. This is one of the best local releases you’ll hear this year.

Actionesse is celebrating the release of The Deep, Bright Below with a show at the Clock Out Lounge on Saturday, April 13th, with friends MKB Ultra opening and Ten Miles Wide headlining. You can learn more and find tickets here:
Ten Miles Wide/ Actionesse/ MKB Ultra at Clock Out Lounge
The band is also embarking on a West Coast tour that will take them clear down into Tijuana, Mexico. It kicks off on May 2nd in Sacramento and includes a date at the famous 924 Gilman in Berkeley. You can check out all of the dates here:
Actionesse Three-our 2019
And if that wasn’t enough, you can find Actionesse playing at this year’s Fisherman’s Village Music Festival. They’re guaranteed to bring down the house . . . you may need protective gear.

Christine Mitchell has been poring over album liner notes pretty much since she acquired the skill of reading, and figured out the basic structure of rock songs at an early age. Whether it’s the needle popping into the first groove of the record, the beeps that signal the beginning (or end) of a cassette tape, or digital numbers ticking off the seconds from zero, music brings Christine happiness, ponderous thought, opportunities for almost scientific study, and sometimes a few tears. When she started attending live shows two decades ago, a whole new piece of the puzzle clicked in and she has been hooked ever since.