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.