DON’T FLY PANICKED
It was just over a year and a half ago when JUICE (or at least, this writer) first experienced Froya up north during the second IndiePG. Even then, we realised that this diminutive local lass had something special about her; Froya’s set was one of the best of the entire weekend, up there alongside Tempered Mental’s in terms of overall tightness and punch. Of course, we picked up a copy of her Fries In Cream EP right then and there, and put it on repeat (that, and some of TM’s old stuff) for the long drive back to the Klang Valley. Over the next year we’d come to see firsthand Michelle Lee’s steady rise amongst the Malaysian music cognoscenti, with a steady stream of tunes and videos flooding our airwaves and Chrome tabs. ‘Uncomprehended Child’ has been on the local charts for months on end now, and anybody who’s anybody has seen her in action at least once, whether at a Guinness Amplify show or at a random gig in some bar on a Friday night.
So of course, we were expecting something rather special from Froya’s debut full-length album. Parsing through the tracklist as we were downloading the album (legal review copy, mind you), we realised that most of the tracks had been released at some point or other over the past few years online and on her previous EP bar just a few songs. Now, this would have normally taken the shine off the whole endeavour for us, but we were still interested as to how she’d piece all the songs together into one cohesive whole.
The short answer is that she didn’t.
The album starts off with the familiar lo-fi aesthetic of ‘Uncomprehended Child’ – honestly a track that we didn’t think we’d make it to where it is now due to its slightly offbeat title, but it does really showcase what Froya the artiste is all about. It’s catchy, both lyrically and sonically, with just enough to it that purists won’t shun it as just another one-off hit to hit the local spotlight. ‘Deserve’ continues the lilting theme that the lead single started, with a cheekier vibe to it. It’s a strong piece that showcases Michelle’s unique vocals and songwriting capabilities. Think early ’00s acoustic singer-songwriter style material, but with a much stronger backing arrangement. It’s in pieces like this where her background as a composer really comes to the forefront – there’s more than enough going on to shade the barebones melody.
‘We Are Here’ sees Froya take a shot at a slow-burning track (complete with a sing-along section), and she almost makes the cut here but half the time her singing is nigh unintelligible. Thankfully, the title track saves the day as Michelle returns to form with one of her strongest vocal performances of the entire set. It’s at this point where we’ve come to the conclusion that Froya’s perhaps at her strongest with full-bodied swing tracks (this one, along with ‘Deserve’ takes the cake for our favourite tunes up to this point). The acoustic rendition of ‘Kill You’ brings things down a notch with haunting lyrics and a reverb-y masquerade for all her parts. But despite the slightly cheesy tone (you can’t blame us for letting out a chortle or two when the “Kill, kill, kill” parts come on) and over-effected vocals, the song still stands out as a rather delightful composition in terms of melodic composition.
The album takes a little breather with a couple of filler tracks before ‘Dawn’ comes in with a lazy dreampop exterior to it. It’s perplexing to us why this one was chosen as the second single off this album. It’s nowhere near as strong as the opening few tracks, and seems like it was only chosen because that’s what’s in vogue with the indie kids nowadays. The chorus is nowhere as strong as it could be, and the high production quality that’s been present up to this moment seems to have disappeared in a heartbeat. It’s tragic, really. Probably the most disappointing track off Panic Bird besides the final track, which closes the album with a power ballad that doesn’t have the oomph effect musically to match her vocals. ‘The Map’ was written as part of the OST for a short film, just like ‘Kill You’, and doesn’t seem nearly as complete enough without the screenplay to back it.
So, the long answer is that while the album does have some tracks that hold their own very strongly indeed, as a whole it just feels like a hodgepodge of tunes thrown in the mix with nothing to glue the parts together. We know for sure that she’s got the talent to come up with moments of brilliance, just not consistently enough yet.