Mhenwhâr Huws – Body Control
(Self-released. CD review by Fiona Mactaggart)
One of the most interesting things about this Glasgow-based experimental, improvising string and percussion quartet, is perhaps the meaning behind band’s name. Mhenwhâr is reportedly an ancient Welsh term associated with uprisings against ruling elites and was used for example in the 19th and 20th centuries by Welsh farmers rebelling against unfair taxes and other oppressive laws, as in the renowned Rebecca Riots.
Closer to the present day, self-sufficient rural Welsh collectives in the 1970s and 1980s called themselves ‘Mhenwhârians’. On their social media page the band nails their colours well and truly to the mast: “We hope to be good representatives of the Mhenwhârian tradition in the 21st century – resisting the political and capitalistic mire we find around us and trying to find alternative harmonious, ecological and autonomous ways of moving forward..” So far, so interesting.
As regards the actual music, this debut album consists of nine tracks, all of which sound predominantly improvised, with a mix of extended acoustic instrumentation and electronics.
The central track, Mhenwhâr Huws is the only one to feature vocals, which relate the story of The Rebecca Riots. Around this anchoring track, the instrumental improvisations express their political discontent, with violin and viola scratchings, some droney doominess, pizzicato double bass and extended drum technique. The electronics add further interest, especially on this listener’s particular favourite, Static Contact. Opening with seeming chaos, this track evolves into mad zombie bee swarming (at least in this listener’s fevered imagination), before reaching up to higher registers and a somewhat less alarming humming, before the violin finally breaks through with some acoustic ‘saving of the day’. Phew.
Another stand-out is the pensive Shosta. Opening double bass is stirred up by interesting drum shenanigans; the viola squawks then the violin jumps on top. Nice.
The colourful album artwork matches the free, rather carnaptious quality of the sounds and doubtless the album launch on 4 March 2020, at The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow will be an artful affair. Though their name doesn’t seem to be listed on this April’s ‘Counterflows’ festival of experimental and underground music, it is not unlikely Mhenwhâr Huws will receive an invitation in a future year. Meanwhile the band keeps busy with their own ‘1.5 Months’, a regular event in Glasgow promoting experimental music.
Body Contact is available as CD or download from 4 March 2020.