"Air Conditioning" opens Zoetrope Woe with startling effectiveness. In its extreme brevity and dynamic shifts, it's the sound of sticking a knife in an electrical socket, pausing momentarily to pull it out, and then doing it again.
Hip Don't Dance own their golden-age indie rock influences (Pavement, Sebadoh) throughout the record. Being that the band members were likely in diapers during the Buzz Bin era, Zoetrope Woe has no ties to the ridiculous slacker culture associated with its '90s forebears.
At first, Zoetrope Woe speeds by in a blur of PTSD-inducing sus-sus-suspect devices. The hooks also register among the IEDs, but on subsequent listens the intricacies of songs like "Harpo" and "Readership as Author" reveal the superb songwriting and the sloppiness-is-next-to-godliness instrumental interplay.
Vocalist Alex Whelen sings like a man who kicks himself when he's down; alternately battering and bruised, but always convincing. When he packs the absurdly believable line "'cause I'm falling madly in love with Sylvia Plath" into a measure far too short to fit it, the entire band's rhythmic ingenuity is put on display. Zoetrope Woe is a treasure trove of unexpected surprises.