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Feisty Pao                                      Review by Daryl Goh, The Star dated 29 April 2002

 

Think PJ Harvey, think Bjork. Think a Kuala Lumpur born Chinese female artiste making music with the punk attitude and emotional outpouring to put the machismo male-dominated rock scene to shame.

Shaven headed Pao, gradually emerging from the fringe, is probably the first of the few Malaysian female artistes actually seizing the opportunity to be a true individual in the music scene.

Pao’s strong alternative/indie sound is one born without limits. Offering to delve deeper into the human psyche and everyday reality, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter, loving post-modern poetic twists, achieves impressive results with her clutch of Mandarin-based tunes.

Pao is heaven sent for listeners with a penchant for music with mental scars and thought-provoking appeal. Most of this Transcend album sounds utterly aggressive and fierce, delivering an artiste’s uncompromising side with depth and vision.

Pao’s feisty voice varies considerably, but there is an admirable surefootedness in the manner she gets the tunes flying. The upbeat opener Fish, bolstered by quirky pop touches, stands as the album’s closest commercial moment while the Bjork-inspired Falling, washed in electro-beats, captures the morose beauty of a dying relationship.

But there is big noise from such a small singer too. Pao’s teeth-baring angry buzz on Mental Power, takes a swipe at human sheep and she hardly holds back the invective as she reaches out to Atari Teenage Riot fans on the Sept 11 blast on Knock It Off, before sending sonic ripples through the spiritually inflected Nirvana.

The hopelessness across On My Own, a tune with haunting choruses, in one fell swoop tells of anguished youthful times. Pao’s bold artistic range on this debut, often looking to confront life’s idiosyncrasies and emerging with emotionally intense tunes, makes this singer a distinctive voice. The atmospheric Goth rock on Sanctuary, inspired by a manga title by Sho Fumimura, consolidates the album’s broody and tweaked soundscapes.

This former kindergarten teacher even straddles on the poignant bits on Lost Fairy Tales, a cooing lullaby of broken dreams.

For a first-timer, Pao stands at the cusp of bigger things, and surely, with a stylish album built on rare passion and daring music invention, this effort makes for an eye-opening homegrown discovery.