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Gruff Rhys - Pang! (Album Review)

Wednesday, 18 September 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Following 2018’s expansive and orchestral ‘Babelsberg’, Gruff Rhys has reined in his arrangements on ‘Pang!’, composing an album of tidy chamber indie that has its basis in British folk. Interestingly, this is offset by the handling of South African DJ and record producer Muzi, who has added a host of non-Western musical elements, including a few lines sung in Zulu. The rest of the album is delivered in Welsh.

The Super Furry Animals frontman is an artist who inspires intense loyalty from fans and relative indifference from the British public at large. The reason for this vexing inconsistency is clear to see on ‘Pang!’.

Rhys often sings from a specifically Celtic perspective, melding highly observant left-field otherness with the kitchen sink normality of caravan holidays and cheese on toast.

It’s something that is both rather general and highly specific, and when presented with Rhys's favoured rinky-dink melodies and twee softness, the effect is surprisingly divisive.

This is demonstrated on tracks such as Bae Bae Bae and Ara Deg (ddaw’r awen), both of which marry sunny guitar riffs with elaborate, ornate arrangements. Rhys’s singing retains his signature low-slung style and while the language choice means that song meanings require a little unlocking for non-Welsh speakers, it really doesn’t detract from vocals that are extraordinarily lyrical and distinctive. 

This element is also present on the remarkable Taranau Mai, which blends hypnotic guitar runs with tabla percussion and magical harp glissando. Once again, we are in quite a comfy generic space: Rhys’s oeuvre has always had more in common with Belle & Sebastian than the Manic Street Preachers, but it remains enjoyable music that incorporates a host of diverse elements. 

The challenge, as it so often is with Rhys’ music, is the tweeness that permeates the record. ‘Pang!’ has an unmistakable lack of energy that feels both effortless and highly contrived: a kind of artisan slackerness. It is exactly what his fans come to love and expect, but it stops his music from ever feeling groundbreaking, even when it is. 

Gruff Rhys Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue October 15 2019 - GATESHEAD Sage
Sun October 20 2019 - MANCHESTER YES
Mon October 21 2019 - CAMBRIDGE Storey's Field Centre
Wed October 23 2019 - LONDON EartH
Mon December 09 2019 - DUBLIN Whelans
Tue December 10 2019 - CORK St Lukes
Wed December 11 2019 - BELFAST Empire Music Hall

Click here to compare & buy Gruff Rhys Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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