The arrival of Pang!, Gruff Rhys’ sixth record under his own name, comes fourteen years since his first, rendering his span of solo albums now longer than that of the Super Furry Animals. That’s not to say he’s established as going it alone these days, though. Indeed, as has become Rhys’ standard operating procedure, Pang! assembles a global crew of musicians – most prominently South African electronic artist Muzi on bass and production duties, and drums by Welsh-American ex-Flaming Lip Kliph Scurlock – for an album that’s solo in name only, feeling more like a collaboration of far-flung musical elements than a statement of an individual.
Accordingly, infectiously grooving tropicalia-infused guitar licks rub up against steel pans and layered and looped electronics on the beautifully sunny ‘Bae Bae Bae’, while luxuriously lounge-lizard parping brass augments the wistful melodicism of the title track, and ‘Taranau Mai’, all trombone drones, tabla and expressively jazzy trumpet flourishes, smoulders with psychedelic warmth. Album highlight ‘Niwl O Anwiredd’, meanwhile, manages to combine the intimacy of a simple acoustic guitar strum with cut-up percussion samples and a gorgeously yearning trumpet solo to create something simultaneously familiar and uncanny, and not a little moreish.
Tying the disparate musical strands together, though, is Rhys’ charmingly unassuming mumble of a singing voice, weaving gorgeously concise melodies through each knotty song such that, even though sung entirely in Welsh, it imbues the album with, variously, poignancy, wistfulness, summery optimism and a touch of nostalgic longing.
It all amounts to a record that, while ostensibly a work of outsider art – after all, nothing here is ever going to bother the charts – is beautifully approachable, brimming with undeniable affection for its influences, contributors, construction, and, most appealingly, it’s intended audience.