By Joseph Purcell
On Free Humans, Hen Ogledd lead you on an expansive pop voyage through the unbounded landscapes of the creators’ imaginations.
Mogic, the 2018 release from the musically diverse quartet, Hen Ogledd, was a delightful, off kilter, proggy voyage. A creation conjured from the minds of its four key protagonists – Richard Dawson, Rhodri Davies, Sally Pilkington and Dawn Bothwell, it harnessed the motorik drums and synths of Kraftwerk with sharp bursts of something verging on free jazz.
New long player, Free Humans, builds upon this, ensconcing the listener on a traverse through a Flaming Lips-esque trip across the mysterious lands that exist in the minds of its contributors. Bringing together Abba, Twelfth Century mystic composer Hildergard von Bingen, and the creative works of Werner Herzog, it is quite unlike any other record you will encounter this year, and therein lies its beauty. The artists involved are not unbowed or daunted by their ideas, instead, they have embraced them and allowed them to flourish on a fun packed punch of a record.
Farewell is a winding delight. Dawson’s unique baritone underpin the contrasting vocals – it is a rambunctious track of mystique, and it spritely flows – instilling an air of enjoyment and an anticipation for what lies ahead. The synthesized sounds of lead single, Trouble, bursts unbound, while Crimson Star is Dawson’s signature moment on an ode to past memories of love: ‘Sunset never ends, I wish I could see you again.’
Free Humans is not all gleaming snaps of light – Earworm is a spiky punk-meets-jazz affair, with menacing undertones at odds with sharp blasts of brass and intermittent bongo drums. Kebran Gospel Gossip conjures the imagery of a bustling souk or bazaar through its chiming, hazy horns. The snarling nine-minute penultimate track, Feral, emphasises not only the quality, but the unabashed vision needed to even contemplate an album of such contrasting colours.
Free Humans is an ambitious, smart and open-minded take on pop music. Intersected with sounds from across the musical spectrum, it is a unbounded pleasure to be in its presence.
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