Pang! Is a Welsh Language pop album, with a couple of verses of Zulu and an English title which developed unexpectedly over about 18 months. A solo album of songs by Gruff Rhys. Produced and mixed by South African electronic artist Muzi.
Gruff Rhys on Pang!:
I met the producer Muzi during the recording of the Africa Express track Vessels in Johannesburg in early 2018.
Combining the cut up guitar of South African guitar legend Phuzekhemisi and his own beats, I got to spend a memorable time with members of BCUC figuring out some melodies and lyrics for Muzi to record over his beats. Occasionally things were going so well that he would burst away from his computer screen, out of the door and embark on a celebratory lap of the weird Motel compound we were recording in. The pace was fast and it was one of the most joyful recording experiences I’ve ever had – in my experience if you’re having fun in the studio it’s usually a very good signifier for the health and rigour of the music – even with emotionally heavy songs. Pang!
A few months later I was involved in a recording project where I live in Cardiff, Wales for a video installation which involved incredible dancers from the cities’ Butetown Carnival and local musicians such as the Balafon player N’famady Kouyaté. They needed to dance to my track so I sent it on a whim to Muzi to remix. He sent back the finished track, (a Welsh Language song called Bae Bae Bae – English for Bay, Bay, Bay ) as if from a distant future. I was astounded by the song’s transformation – I suggested we make a whole album. Muzi responded that he would be interested as long as all the songs were in Welsh. Pang!
I continued to record songs in Cardiff at producer and percussionist Kris Jenkins’s Studio, Wings for Jesus and invited N’famady back with his Balafon along with Cardiff based American drumming legend Kliph Scurlock and the brass player Gavin Fitzjohn. Over a few months we gradually cut an album by stealth during my kids school hours and sent the results to Muzi. Pang!
I felt I had somehow found a way of combining my clumsy trad Spanish guitar songwriting with something resembling progress or even experimentation. I love pop music and a good tune – but I’m also drawn to the repetitive and dissonant. A cook friend pointed out that it’s all about Sweet and Sour. Continually trying to figure out how to bridge that canyon keeps us going. Pang!
In between these occasional recording sessions I had embarked on an American tour, the highlight of which was a tourist visit to Prince’s old studio and home, Paisley Park. It turned into a pilgrimage for me – with my fellow musicians I listened to Prince’s back catalogue on Kliph’s hi-res player the entire way from the East Coast to Minneapolis. It seemed to wake me out of the bad funk of a decade of dour ballads. (I stand by the ballads – but sometimes need a holiday). Pang!
Visiting the gloss of Prince’s democratic music palace confirmed in me that my move into day-glo processed pop with this record was justified and in particular, albums like Around the World in a Day (and in particular the title track) became a reference point for attempting to make psychedelically joyful, internationalist and deeply personal digital pop music. Staring at Prince’s ashes in a Perspex box perched next to a cage of live doves on a cloudy blue sky mural backdrop was an unexpected and moving moment. Pang!
Muzi was touring in Europe last March (2019) and came to Cardiff to sift through the tracks with his producer hat on and we mixed an early version of the album and even did a bit of sight-seeing. Sometimes like on Eli Haul he would leave songs alone – often simplifying them further. On occasion he would jump to the mic and join in with some vocals. Some songs he would take a loop of a particularly interesting section, build a beat and rework the song from scratch and by the song Ôl Bys / Nodau Clust – which we mixed by coincidence following a conversation about Daft Punk and industrial music, Muzi completely takes over, scrapping my bad bossa guitars, only retaining the original’s vocals. In that sense it’s a kind of remix album where adventure is favoured over predictability and where the radical remixes are the finished articles. Pang!
By the way the lyrics deal with the negative pangs amongst the joy of daily life (Pang!) radioactivity in Cardiff bay,(Bae Bae Bae) , digital community happenings (Digidigol), the snail’s pace of inspiration (Ara Deg), Sun Screen abstraction (Eli Haul), navigating the fog of lies that is mass media misinformation – in a car (Niwl o Anwiredd), life in a storm (Taranau Mai), surveillance culture head-fucks (Ôl Bys/ Nodau Clust) and that my mouth is a house for my teeth (Anedd i’m Danedd). Pang!
Muzi returned to Johannesburg and stayed up for a couple of days and nights giving the album a final sheen and here it is. A short sharp album, a pang of positivity that jolted me personally out of the omni-present political gloom and out of my musical coma. Pang!