Richard Dawson has reconvened with long-time collaborator and harpist Rhodri Davies, singer and multi-instrumentalist Dawn Bothwell, along with newly added member Sally Pilkington, for Hen Ogledd’s follow-up to 2016’s Bronze. He continues an interest in marrying ancient spirituality, myth and tradition with modern and futuristic tomorrows with his return, now over a year on from his universally lauded masterpiece Peasant.
With a band name that comes from the Welsh for The Old North (the region covering southern Scotland and northern England in the early Middle Ages), Mogic is Hen Ogledd’s third LP, an ambitious, eclectic and experimental fusion, that touches upon everything from artificial intelligence to pre-medieval history, and from robots to romance, in its general look at the impact of machines and future digital imprints has, or may have, on us all, forever. Mogic is a decisive move away from the avant garde meanderings of original duo Dawson and Davies, into a wildly diverse, alt-pop approach, with each member, bar Davies, contributing vocals. Dawson plays bass for the most part, Davies on harp and guitar, while the music deftly, and rather brilliantly, carries minor aspects of old world folk and medievalism, into an electric 21st century world. Most strikingly, it’s there on the ethereal tribal-pop-folk of the techno immortality-laden ’Sky Burial’, which uses a vocoder for the chorus, allied to colourful guitar textures, Pilkington’s earthy vocal, a dexterous jazzy bass passage, and old school John Carpenter-style Moog synth. ’Tiny Witch Hunter’ doctors the voices until they are child-like, with The Cure-esque guitar, a rolling bass groove, and a seemingly incongruous sax solo, on this weirdly salacious piece of robo-lust.
Best of all is ‘Problem Child’, with a driving and densely packed post-punk backbone, and snaking bassline that reminds of Peter Hook, as Dawson tells of a future he wants to embrace: “I don’t want to be a part of the problem / I just want a little piece of the action,” he sings, while the Bjork-like ‘First Date’ finds Bothwell exploring companionship within the out-there updated Beefheartian landscape of plucked guitar strings, clattering percussion, and burbling synths.
There’s more vocal modifications on the short and noisy techno-guitar jam mash-up of ‘Dyma Fy Robot’, while ‘Gwae Reged o Heddiw’ sees a young child quietly taught a Welsh poem, underpinned by ambient-techno washes and pulses. While ‘Transport and Travel’ incorporates the straight talking Scottish brogue of Bothwell, allied with more spookily doctored voices, and leftfield post-punk rhythms, techno bleeps, and beats, where PiL meets a Rip Rig + Panic. The weirdness is then further amplified by random and nutty robo-induced lyrics such as: “I watched Yellow Submarine at The Louvre.” It’s disorientating, but grounded by the dubby bass and mildly tribalistic drums, courtesy of Will Guthrie, who excels with an inventiveness throughout.
A cautionary tale of sorts, Mogic is a forever morphing, sometimes unsettling and curious, but ultimately inviting collage of ideas that explores human consciousness past, present and future, and transported through the medium of voices and instruments, old and new, organic and electronic. As in the album’s title, this is a mix of magic and logic, one that eschews high intellect for an earthy invite into the unique world of Hen Ogledd. Final track, ‘Ethelreda’ (an East Anglian Anglo-Saxon saint) somewhat brings it into focus, via the ghostly synth soundscape that underpins Pilkington’s hazily computerised foray into a fragmented world increasingly directed by modern communications: “I built a new world from your memories / places you have been / faces you have seen / rendered new landscapes”.