Easily one of the more left-of-field listening experiences of the year, Welsh four-piece Hen Ogledd’s third album Mogic is an attempt at a diverse range of sounds that miss the mark on most occasions. Founded by Richard Dawson and Rhodri Davies, with additional members Dawn Bothwell and Sally Pilkington, Hen Ogledd are talented musicians as shown through their level of creativity and production techniques. However, whilst Mogic displays a certain level of creativity, it is quite often lost in a lack of clear direction.
“Love Time Feel” opens the album with very spacey synths and basslines popping up throughout, along with light jangles of cymbals and xylophones. Dawson’s distorted vocals accompany. Whilst it is produced very cleanly, the assortment of sounds feel out of place and don’t contribute well together. This happens quite often throughout Mogic – where instrumentation is scarce, there are often synths or sounds placed that appear out of place. It is obvious Hen Ogledd are trying to achieve a very different and unique sound yet it does often sound forced rather than natural and free-flowing.
These attempts at an individual sound appear on tracks such as the standout “First Date”, with Davies’ vocals alongside very colourful synths and jangly percussion sounding very much like Björk’s Post (1995) work, just without the confidence or sleek production. Filler tracks “Gwae Reged o Heddiw” and “Dyma Fy Robot” are in a similar field, with very peculiar production in both. “Dyma Fy Robot” especially, being an assortment of noises for one minute, with synths and drums meshing together over the sounds of a robotic voice. There is a lot going on in this track, and even after multiple listens it is hard to determine what is occurring.
It is then a complete change of pacing with a nice throbbing bassline and drum loop in “Tiny Witch Hunter” – yet this is overshadowed by the bizarre and altered vocal work throughout the rest of the song. This vocal treatment was obviously deliberate, yet having what appears to be Davies’ vocals altered to a high-pitch while saying “Tiny Witch Hunter” subtracts from what is really impressive musicianship. It’s songs like this which make you question the direction of Hen Ogledd on this album, especially with what follows in the near-unlistenable “Transport & Travel” – six minutes of a very minimal beat alongside another robotic voice talking about travelling. It only diverts about halfway through when Davies begins monologuing about a form of spiritual experience. These songs don’t feel as if they serve any real purpose, and the stories in which they tell are either very vague or don’t go anywhere. As well as this, they very rarely boast any interesting forms of production, at times appearing lacklustre.
In saying this, it does not mean that Hen Ogledd are without total direction. Album highlights such as “Sky Burial” and “Problem Child” boast clean production with tight guitar and bass work. It’s just a shame that this isn’t consistent throughout. The layering of guitar progression in the TV On The Radio-esque “Problem Child” is neatly done, with an impressive solo to accompany. Yet that’s how it is throughout the majority of the album; semi-interesting pieces of production work that is overshadowed negatively by strange vocals and vague lyrics. There is a sense of energy and excitement within the band, but it is definitely lost within strange production choices.
“Welcome to Hell” does try to inject some form of energy into the album with a dark and gritty groove that is bombastic and loud, but it falls short by being repetitious and cluttered with too much sound. Finally, closer “Etheldreda” is very ambient and spacey, utilising the robotic voice effect once again. The synth that is essentially the base of the track is dreamlike, and when parallel to the voice effects is very fitting. The light clambering of cymbals and swooping guitar chords provide some of the most interesting and enjoyable moments on Mogic – it’s a shame that it took so long to get to.
Mogic tries very hard to be different, to create a listening experience that draws you in through its unique style and overall strangeness. But Hen Ogledd have created an album that appears messy and confused. There are some nice moments of clarity that are unfortunately vastly overshadowed by the poorer moments. The band can be praised for their boldness in attempting to create or expand on a different sound, but this time around they do fall short.
Mogic is released Friday 16th November via Weird World.