Consider Pang! the aperitif to the luxurious meal that was Babelsberg, the 2018 concept album recorded with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Gliding by on elegant electronic rhythms, sung in Welsh and buoyed by breezy chord changes reminiscent of bossa nova and fingerpicked folk, Pang! finds Gruff Rhys collaborating with Muzi, an electronic artist from South Africa. It's not the only 2019 album to find Rhys delving into modern African music. Earlier this year, he contributed to Egoli, the 2019 album by Damon Albarn's Africa Express, but where that record proudly rooted itself in rhythm, Pang! is so light it almost seems weightless. Chalk much of this airiness up to the idiosyncratic nature of Rhys' collaboration with Muzi. Usually, the producer would take a finished song from the singer/songwriter, then reconstruct the tracks according to his own whims. This hardly amounts to the erasure of Rhys: his delicate, sharply etched melodies and whimsical sensibilities are retained, they're just given an ebullient makeover thanks to Muzi. What's striking about Pang! is how it not only crosses cultures, but also fuses aesthetics. The songs are sturdily written, clever tunes in a classic guitar-pop tradition but the execution eschews conventions, resulting in a vivid, lively, and refreshing album.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine