Hen Ogledd is, if you remember, the project started by folk maverick Richard Dawson alongside harpist Rhodri Davies. Here, they are joined by Sally Pilkington and Dawn Bothwell to make music which, if you believe the Guardian (and often it's a good idea not to) sounds more like electro-pop than the improvised folk you might expect.
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Much has been made of this collaboration between Paul Gascoigne meets Captain Beefheart folkie Richard Dawson, harpist Rhodri Davies alongside fellow multi instrumentalists Dawn Bothwell and Sally Pilkington but the opening interminable sludge of Love Time doesn't bode particularly well for getting the picture perfect pop we are promised on the press release. The vocoder of Sky Burial is the first suggestion that something different is going on here. This is oddball dream pop and nothing like the demented folk music Dawson normally produces.
But one thing to remember is that this is not Dawson's baby - it's a full band unit with each member contributing equally. Having said that he's all over the stand out track Problem Child. His voice really works well in a more pop orientated setting. His lyrics are always interesting and he's not ever going to follow the traditional path of melody. It's this sense of musicians more used to making 'out there' pop music attempting to make upbeat pop which makes Problem Child one of 2018's most arresting tracks.
There are some pretty interesting moments here. First Dates is how I imagine modern day folk to sound. One of my big issues with folk music is it's inability to move on both musical lyrically from what has gone before but here the vocals (I apologise I don't know which one is singing) has an edge to it that suggests a background in folk music yet crucially is married to dub effects, weird synths and random guitar twists it produces what should be a blueprint for modern storytelling.
What I wouldn't assume is that this is Dawson & co's attempts to go pop. There are some really bamboozling things going on here - utterly bonkers tracks and extreme things but also moments of great listenability. Their anything goes approach often sounds like a band throwing the kitchen sink at their music. I've dallied for a while when giving out a score for this as I'm in two minds whether a lot of it is genius or rubbish. It's...um...challenging and interesting rather than brilliant I think. The juxtaposition is most noticeable in the last two tracks. 'Welcome to Hell' is appalling - something you would be ashamed off if tossed off by your teenage children - but it's followed by the incredible choral beauty of Etheldreda which makes you wonder why they can't make it all like this.
But that would be boring and Hen Ogledd are anything but.
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