If there’s a consistent theme to the work of Newcastle folk auteur, Richard Dawson, it’s a sense of limitless possibility.
His solo albums consistently mine rich seams of lyrical ingenuity and primitivist virtuosity, locating weighty meaning in unlikely sources. And although this isn’t a Richard Dawson solo record, the latest LP from his experimental collaboration with Rhodri Davies, Dawn Bothwell and Sally Pilkington, Hen Ogledd, is possessed of that same spirit of wide-eyed, wondrous potential.
In some ways, then, Mogic isn’t much of a departure from the rest of the Dawson canon, despite its significant stylistic differences. Gone are the thrashed arpeggios and quasi-metal gallops of acoustic guitar, making way for BBC Radiophonic synths, brittle MIDI percussion and swooping melody. Gone, too, is the sense of otherworldly doom that pervades records like Peasant and Nothing Important, whose pastoral textures smuggled a timeless dread into songs about family, survival and remembrance. In its place is a more tranquil, dreamlike optimism, at which Dawson has hinted in the past but which has never been so clear as it is here. It’s a curious inversion of his previous work: where Dawson’s solo songs foreground the darkness that leaks through the cracks of homespun tradition, Mogic arrives at a more hopeful accessibility by employing ostensibly colder, more industrial techniques.
It would, however, be unfair to overlook the considerable contribution to Mogic made by his HO bandmates. Pilkington’s vocal performances are particularly striking; on “First Date”, for example, she leads us through a jungle of intertwined timbres, her plaintive voice a shaft of light cutting through the dense, gnarled instrumental arrangement. Much of the record operates in this way: its leafy, tactile soundworld remains thick and meandering throughout, apart from the points at which it arrives at open, revitalising moments of clarity (see “Gwae Reged o Hiddiw” for one such example). This is an album to get lost inside, to explore, pore over and constantly re-examine. Like many of Dawson’s projects, its effect is gradual but profound: it takes a little time to truly settle into Mogic, but it’s nigh-impossible to leave once you become accustomed to its mores.