Hen Ogledd Concocts an Illusive Musical Haven Out of the Dissonance on 'Mogic'

Photo: Rosie Morris / Courtesy of Domino Records

Mogic is a study in lyrical dexterity and sonic imagination where Hen Ogledd revels in their ability to make lush soundscapes out of discord.

Hen Ogledd

Domino Music

16 November 2018

Hen Ogledd has always shown a proclivity for embracing the avant-garde. Entwining experimentation with distinct musical acumen, the British group has released their third full-length LP Mogic. A study in lyrical dexterity and sonic imagination, the band revels in their ability to make lush soundscapes out of discord. Hen Ogledd's moniker is derived from the Welsh name for the British Old North, an expansive region encompassing several kingdoms. An apt name for a band with equally wide-reaching and elastic musical influences. Led by Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies, they enlist the talent of Dawn Bothwell and Sally Pilkington to create a rampageous sound. The quintet imbues Mogic with complicated music that is both beguiling and engaging.

The joy rendered by Hen Ogledd is engendered by the album's unpredictability. There is no way of anticipating what sounds or influences the outfit will undertake until they are launched. Essentially, Hen Ogledd's only calculability is their penchant for unpredictability. The album opens with "Love Time Feel" demonstrating a melancholic oboe in dialogue with Dawson's vocals. The duality exhibits the semblance of a plaintive folk song while eschewing the genre's prognostic markers. The folk vibe is thrust into modernity by the inclusion of background instrumentation generating noise as a supplement rather than a musical distraction. The track easily resembles a piece from John Cage's repertoire.

Without surprise, "Love Time Feel" is the only track devising this type of unique soundscape. As a whole, Mogic is an exploration of the technology and humanistic dichotomy. Their consideration of this duality is epitomized by the vocal distortion on "Sky Burial". The mechanical production is a clear contrast to Bothwell's soaring vocals especially when she serenely repeats the lyrics "I've been searching for you / I've been searching for you." Her gossamer melody causes the vocal filtration to sound that much more cyborgian. "First Date" and "Transport and Travel" are revisitations of the harmonious juxtaposed to the cacophonous ultimately cementing the overlap between human and machines.

Due to the noticeably adamantine percussion and extenuated bass riffs, "Problem Child" finds Hen Ogledd reexamining their punk roots. The lyrics are also reminiscent of the punk ethos contrasting aloofness and singularity against a society steeped in misery and wickedness. The track opens with Dawson lamenting "I live on a mountain / The only tall structure on this planet / The view is appalling." The chorus then similarly considers the individual's role as part of the collective's tribulation. However, they reject association by proclaiming "I don't want to be part of the problem." Again, Hen Ogledd situates themselves between an evident individual and collective binary. The music video revisits this consideration by contributing to dominant popular culture but also flippantly subverting the expectations for the form. They don't take themselves too seriously but still astound the audience with their skill and sound.

Mogic becomes a more perplexing labyrinth after "Gwae Reged o Heddiw" and "Dyma Fy Robot". Acting as the album's center points, these two tracks contextualize the last moments of tangible musicality then usher in the experimental. "Tiny Witch Hunter" finds Pilkington chanting "nano, nano, nano-technology / bio, bio, bio-diversity" echoing a computerized expression that is at once off-putting and catchy. At best, the track resembles a Die Antwoord single as it replicates the rappers' vocal stylings. Hen Ogledd's drive for dissimilarity inadvertently mimics thereby exposing a miscue.

In turn, the second half of the album dwindles and becomes too convoluted. "Welcome to Hell" in particular summons a darkened industrial techno vibe supporting repetitive vocals screeching "welcome to hell". The track is interchangeable with a campy b-horror soundtrack thereby losing the bleak aesthetics associated with industrial techno. The final track "Etheldreda" ends in mid-note as it is intentionally cut-off. Here the band disallows any narrative comfort established by the album's closure while recontextualizing the certitude associated with conclusions.

Yet Mogic is Hen Ogledd's most accessible album. The hooks are catchy, and the music reveals fresh and nuanced layers after each subsequent listens. Mogic actualizes an illusive musical haven out of the dissonance.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.