Review/ Gruff Rhys - Pang!

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By Mark Parker, Third Year History

14 years after Gruff Rhys released his debut solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, the face of contemporary Welsh music goes full circle with the release of his third Welsh language album of his career.

Though similar to Yr Atal in respect to language, Pang! avoids replication, instead offering what is another smooth diversion in style from Rhys’ last album: the highly successful Babelsberg. Though mega-fans of Super Furry Animals may be disappointed that 2019 marks a tenth successive year without a new album release from the Welsh psychedelic-rock legends, Pang! offers little scope for disappointment. In Pang!, Rhys offers up another catchy and sophisticated album, with his choice to record in his native language making it all the more exciting given the musical excellency of both Mwng and Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.

In Huw Stephens’ recent film ‘Anorak’, John Peel can be seen claiming music’s meaning is assumed to be more profound when the lyrics are not understood. Listening to Pang!, one understands what is meant. Though the melodies are similar to those found in earlier records, notably Candylion, introducing friends to tracks from Pang!may be easier than introducing friends to a track about, for example, an actual candy lion.

Title track ‘Pang!’ is the only single yet contextualised for non-Welsh listeners. ‘Pang’ is adopted from the English dictionary, whilst Rhys then continues to list reasons one may feel ‘pangs’: ‘hunger, regret, twitter…’ Perhaps drawing upon Super Furry influences, high tempo drum tracks are looped behind a simple yet distinct acoustic guitar riff. Rhys’ doubled layered vocals dominate the verses in typical fashion, before percussion and brass are overlaid in the chorus to produce a wall of sound Rhys so expertly replicates in his live shows. Vocalisation, reminiscent of Shark Ridden Waters in sound, dominates the latter half of the single. Though parallels can be pinpointed between Pang! and Rhys’ back catalogue, however, the composition of the track is such that it sounds entirely new.

Second single ‘Bae Bae Bae’ was released in mid-2018 as part of the Carnival of the Sea and premiered during the annual national Eisteddfod. Mixing politics with music (as Rhys does so well), Bae Bae Bae, whilst celebrating the oceans on a broader level, was released at a time when controversial plans to dump nuclear waste in Cardiff Bay was hotly disputed. The track heavily features African vocals, provided by South African DJ and producer Muzi, whose inclusion as a collaborator on the album was perhaps the product of Rhys’ recent Africa Express project. Indeed, part of the album was mixed in Johannesburg. African vocals continue to pop up during the duration of the album as an entirely new but welcome introduction to Rhys’ musical style.

The absence of Stephen Black (AKA Sweet Baboo) from the credits was a surprise. In his place to provide the brass was Gavin Fitzjohn, whose contribution to tracks such as Digidigol is indispensable, with brass becoming a successful staple in Rhys’ works. Ex-Flaming Lips drummer and ‘Welsh-American psychedelic warlord’ (in Gruff Rhys’ words) Kliph Scurlock’s contribution cannot be overlooked. Providing as mesmerising a performance in the studio as he does live, Scurlock’s drumming on Pang! is characterised by a skilful restraint, none more so than on the Jazz infused ‘Niwl O Anwiredd’.

‘Annedd Im Danedd’ closes the album. A medieval fanfare transforms into a heavily layered and intensely catchy melody, as Rhys’ trademark vocals overlay what is perhaps Scurlock’s best drumming on the album. ‘Annedd Im Danedd’ evokes a mystic quality, a fitting way to close what is another scorcher from the Welsh legend. In Pang!, out on the 13th of September, Rhys continues a tradition of producing some of his finest works when singing in his native Welsh.

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