To those that know his work somewhat distantly or perhaps only through an occasional encounter, Gruff Rhys may appear to be a bit of an eccentric. Those more familiar with his past proceedings will recognize the fact that he tends to dig deeply into his Welsh roots. Both tendencies stem from his seminal efforts with Super Furry Animals, a semi-psychedelic outfit that excelled at creating colorful prog-pop and an occasional album sung in their native tongue. A Welsh Music Prize winner and Mercury Prize nominee, Rhys is an accomplished artist whose work has maintained its combination of adventure, entertainment and amusement throughout both his earlier group efforts and the six solo records he’s released ever since.
Pang! continues that trend, and although it’s sung mostly in Welsh and occasionally in Zulu (!), the spirited sensibility that’s been so integral to his output continues to flourish here as well. Much of the album boasts a breezy, tropical feel expressed through easy rhythms, occasional horns, chants, playful percussion, and a vibrant, celebratory sound. It consistently comes across as both energetic and effusive, catchy and compelling. “Pang!,” “Bae Bae Bae” and “Ara Deg (Ddaw’r Awen)” offer early evidence of that tack courtesy of instrumental arrangements that would likely find a nice fit in some faraway vacationland like Rio, Tahiti, South Africa, or for that matter, any setting that’s especially exotic. The reflective ballad “Eli Haul” slows the pace, but only momentarily; indeed Rhys’ pop instincts remain unimpeded. The smooth groove of “Niwl O Anwiredd,” the song that follows, glides along with finger snaps, a brassy flourish and more than a hint of dreamy desire. Likewise, the remainder of the set follows suit.
At only nine songs in length, Pang! provides a relatively brief encounter, but its brevity is more than made up for in its upbeat attitude and carefully constructed melodies. Its cross-cultural references may require a more concerted listen, but the vibe and variety all but ensure an endearing effect right from the start. There’s no pain in this Pang!, but instead, a wealth of pure pleasure.