Home Read Albums Of The Week: O. | WeirdOs

Albums Of The Week: O. | WeirdOs

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: O. — the London duo of baritone saxophonist Joe Henwood and drummer Tash Keary — have released their debut album WeirdOs. Full of breakneck rhythms and groove-heavy, distorted sax riffing, it featured everything fans have come to love about their inimitable sound.

Honing their fearless sound through a residency at Brixton venue The Windmill, as well as on support slots across the UK and Europe with fellow heavyweights black midi and Gilla Band, O. have now distilled their unique live energy into these 10 tracks. Coming on the heels of last November’s debut EP Slice and once again featuring production from Dan Carey, WeirdOs is Tash and Joe at their most raucous and free. Across high-octane instrumentals recorded live to tape, the duo encompass everything from cathartic dancefloor drops to intricate jazz lines, and sludgy, menacing doom metal.

They say: “Our debut album is a tribute to the joys of being weird. Titled after someone at one of our first shows enthusiastically told us that we make ‘music for weirdos’, this is a culmination of our first few years as a band making odd music with odd instrumentation. WeirdOs, we feel, describes the collection of tunes, us as people, and the people who enjoy our music. Long live the strange.”

Few things compare to the experience of watching O. live. Featuring the immense, vibrational bass-weight of Henwood’s baritone saxophone played through his array of dub and distortion pedals, as well as the blisteringly precise yet expressively fierce drumming of Keary, the duo’s shows are an assault of sound. With only two instruments, O. encompass everything from the euphoria of the club to the earworming hooks of memorable melodies. Theirs is an infectious, irrepressible music. “We’re just two people making a big sound, unafraid to give it our all when we play,” Joe says. “We’re interested in taking it to the limit — it’s something that comes naturally to us.”

Tash first took to the drums as a shy nine-year-old, channelling its monolithic sound as a means of self-expression. As the only musician in the family, music never seemed like anything other than a hobby, but after joining grassroots music organisation Tomorrow’s Warriors in 2018 and becoming part of their Female Frontline band, she found herself embedded in London’s burgeoning jazz scene. At the same time, Joe was building his reputation as a key player in the capital, after spending a decade with afro-jazz outfit Nubiyan Twist.

Manoeuvring around similar scenes, the pair finally met after being hired for the same gig in 2019 and noticed an immediate chemistry. “I felt a real connection playing with Tash,” Joe says. “We shared the same mentality of telling a musical story, rather than just shredding technical ideas.”

They resolved to keep jamming together and once the Covid lockdowns hit in 2020 and all gigs were pulled, they finally found the time. “We joined up as a ‘bubble’ and spent pretty much every day improvising with each other for months,” Tash says. “We would play along to tracks we liked and talk about our influences, from Deftones to A Tribe Called Quest, Radiohead and Floating Points. We became really excited about introducing each other to music and rekindling our love of finding new music as kids.”

Photo by Holly Whitaker.

Harnessing that childlike enthusiasm allowed the duo to move away from the jazz music they had been playing and to reconnect with their first loves of heavier, noisier sounds. For Joe, that meant revisiting his first experience of seeing legendary experimental British saxophonist Pete Wareham play with his Acoustic Ladyland band as a teenager and witnessing the electronic wizardry that could emerge from processing a horn through a pedal board. While for Tash, it meant smashing through the backbeat of rock tracks, letting her hands fly over the drum kit and cymbals.

Settling on the initial band name Toe — as an elision of their names — before changing to O. to avoid confusion with the Japanese post-rock group Toe, Tash and Joe began playing their first shows, which were restricted to pandemic livestreams. “We tested our neighbours’ patience,” Tash says. “Until our third show got booked, which was at The Windmill.”

Transforming seamlessly from living room jams into the sweaty, packed confines of the bar, the band soon caught the attention of venue booker Tim Perry, who was taken by their capacity to produce such an intense flow with so few instruments. “We call him our Fairy Godfather because he gave us a residency at a venue where we could really hone our sound to a live audience,” Joe says. “Then he asked if we wanted to go on tour with black midi.”

Following the experimental trio on 25 dates across the UK and Europe in 2021 and 2022, it was here that O. drilled down to the essence of their onstage presence. “We were so inspired by the playfulness black midi shared onstage and it gave us confidence to get darker and heavier in our sound,” Tash says. “We also really built our stamina to be able to play fast and hard with just the two of us for a full hour.”

Flexing those live muscles further on tour with Irish post-punk group Gilla Band, O. were then introduced to producer Carey and quickly began work on what would become Slice. “Dan had been to see us play a lot and he just wanted us to recreate the raw energy of being on stage in the studio,” Joe says. “It’s such a full, bassy sound and Dan simply allows us to play the music.”

Finding freedom in Carey’s intuitive, analogue process, Slice produced five tracks of propulsive instrumentals, from the endless crescendo of Moon to the synth pedal distortions of Grouchy and jump-up blasts of ATM. “Slice is a snapshot of different sides of the band, it’s a playful taster,” Tash says. “Whereas with the album, we’re getting louder and more intense, experimenting with noise and our metal influences. It’s a full, freeing force.”

Indeed, WeirdOs is O. fully embracing all aspects of their newfound expression. Their songs are honed through sprawling, improvised jams but this isn’t jazz — instead, it’s finely crafted music channelling massive energy to make listeners feel everything from the moshpit chaos of an electronic drop to the languorous sway of dub dilations. With their first trip to the U.S. completed and their largest U.K. tour on the horizon, O.’s unstoppable live sound will soon be coming to a speaker stack or live stage near you. “It’s total freedom,” Joe says. “Two people taking every risk.”