WPGM Commentary: Pangolin On Their New Album ‘Hiraeth’ – Track By Track


Hiraeth, our new record which dropped last week, has been sat in the slow-cooker for a couple of years, soaking up all the different flavours we’ve been exposed to individually and as a band over that time period.

It now reflects something of lots of the artists we love, like Hiatus Kaiyote, Tom Misch, Snarky Puppy, Yussef Dayes, Vulfpeck, Robert Glasper, and Kendrick Lamar – but, mercifully, I don’t think it’s ended up sounding just like a knock-off discount version of one of those heroes.

It’s also soaked up a lot that’s been going on in our lives. Most of us have started working whilst this material was being written – we’ve got a teacher, a doctor, a composer, a data analyst, an activist…lots of new challenges which diverted a considerable portion of our energy away from composition and rehearsal, to the point where the project nearly became unsustainable.

During the creating process, almost every band member went through a break-up with the person they thought could be their team-mate for life, some of us had long-term projects at work or study suddenly cancelled or significantly set-back, and some of us are currently trying to navigate some significant ongoing mental health difficulties.

So it’s relieving and satisfying seeing Hiraeth grow into something that feels definitively ours, with our unique imprint – a wonderful, weird, messy amalgamation of all the different places we’ve been coming from musically and experientially over the last few years.

“Last Lament”

Compositionally, this tune went through so many chops, changes, and complete re-writes before we finally figured out how to make it sit together musically and thematically – there were a lot of times when we were on the cusp of binning it!

It sets the tone for the whole record with the imagined inner narrative of a young person displaced from their home by war, travelling across the sea out of terror from what they’ve seen, with a tentative hope for what’s ahead. For a few of us, the second half – Femi’s spoken word over the 7/4 cross rhythm and delayed pianos – represents the sound and feel most emblematic of the album.

Moment

This feels like a bit of a detox after the intense ocean of sound that closes “Last Lament”.

Using a gentle poppy motif that gradually crescendos into a euphoric funk-out, “Moment” grapples with the search for a more realistic emotional and spiritual authenticity in our work and relationships, gently pushing against a culture that is quick to offer easy answers to complex questions around relationship breakdown, unanswered prayer, and mental health difficulties.

Tanzil, who’s our newest member, doubled down and brought the fire to his closing sax solo, in what is by far the straight-up grooviest section of the record and the bit I keep returning to and listening to over and over again.

“Day In The Life”

Bouncing off a hiphop-infused shuffle, Femi charts the tension in reconciling the current state of his life with the days of his past, exploring how those memories can often disorientatingly seem like those of an entirely different person.

Jemimah’s melodic counterfoil reminds us to keep looking forward, rather than allow ourselves to be completely defined by what’s behind us. Distorted clavs, squealing saxophones and grinding guitars keep this tune pumping right to the end, which finally melts back down into a washy groove to close.

“Young Enough”

“Young Enough” is about having loved, or still loving someone after a long time of being apart. How can you be a new person, with a new life, and still be confronted with moments of love, nostalgia and confusion, but accepting that it might always be that way?

It relates to hiraeth perfectly in the sense it’s a real yearning for a place in your life you can’t return to, but then maybe don’t actually want to, and I think there is something quite beautiful in that feeling of contradiction.

“Better Days”

We’ve sat with this tune for a few years now, and after several iterations and live performances, realised that it best sits as a laid-back, gently-pulsing groove, rather than the odd-metered rock-out it used to play as.

It was saved from the cutting floor when we workshopped a half-time chorus, which totally changed the feel of the track to be more coherent and musical – to the extent that, for me, the first two verse/chorus units, with Jemimah’s ethereally stacked vocals, Femi’s half-spoken/half-sung implores, and Tanzil’s pool-side flute musings, constitute the finest section of the record.

Jacob then takes us on a beautifully conceived linear electric piano solo over a hypnotic synth bass hook, and even during the more frantic moments of Dan’s drum solo, Jemimah’s calming vocal reminds us of the peaceful sound world from which that freneticism has escaped.

“I Am The Pangolin”

With tongue firmly in cheek, this record-closing track uses the modern-day plight of the endangered animal as a vehicle for a critique of our lack of care for the ecosystem we inhabit, as Femi lays down truth and Rob finally unleashes the might of his legendary keys wizardry after 30 minutes of keeping it low-volume and funky.

The squelchy synth bass lines and arpeggiators bring some of us back home, in a way, to our teenage romance with rockers like Muse and Radiohead, as we crash out of an otherwise more colourful and varied record.

Listen to our Hiraeth album below!

Words by Pangolin // Follow them on Facebook + Instagram

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