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Woe



Like most artists in the so-called "post-rock" camp, Woe strives to make the familiar strange (succeeding quite admirably, by the way) by infusing their rock with a fierce and heavy streak of experimentalism and number of left field stylistic elements, in the process coming up with something dynamic, interesting, and very fresh. The British quartet, led by John Hannon, once a member of a hardcore band called Understand, comes at their compositions with the spirit of punk and the desire -- if not necessarily the requisite experience -- to play jazz. Lots of happy accidents occur as a result. A big, spooky rhythm section drives Woe's pieces, building the hypnotism factor, which is only increased thanks to layered trumpet, sax, and guitar, and lots of dub delay. Sometimes the songs are barely contained chaos, sometimes they're slinky and elegant; often they feel like an intergalactic locomotive plowing resolutely through all manner of celestial debris. They'd make a good soundtrack to a noir movie set in 2038. This band is definitely weird, and really good.

Not surprisingly, given the above description, Woe got its start with a movie score, which Hannon (trumpet, guitar) and collaborator Pete Wilkins (drums) put together in a single night back in 1997 using trumpet, trombone, and double bass despite not knowing how to play any of those instruments. Liking this bold new direction, the duo continued recording, eventually issuing the first proper Woe release, They're All Dead. In 1999 they signed up sax player Mick Lain and bassist Kev Hutchins and set to work recording Last Stop. The band recorded each track without any rehearsal, aiming only at a certain set of ideas about what the music should sound like. The album's refreshing rawness and spontaneity reflect that lack of preparation. "Reason Gets Paid Back" is ghoulish, with a comically ominous bassline, suggesting prog rock even as jazz figures flutter overhead; "White Stick" plays off an insistent rhythm against echoing guitar and trumpet. There's a lot of music on Last Stop, but the sound never gets old; in fact, every track manages to be a surprise.