Music by the Bay
Having lived in Singapore for almost five years, I was able to have a nodding acquaintance with the local music scene. Acts like Concave Scream and Electrico made their way into my playlist, the latter being way before I was aware of their origins. The Fire Fight was a recent addition to my barely even considered a collective of S-Rock. The Singaporean four-piece band consists of frontman/guitarist Joshua Tan, guitarist Jonathan Leong, drummer Iain Tham, and Jbarks on bass. The group gained recognition after performing in the 2007 Baybeats music festival, and enjoyed subsequent rapport before releasing their first album a couple years later. I was given my own copy from The Power of Pop’s Rebecca Lincoln as a birthday gift, but due to clashing schedules, it only found its way into my hands last week.
Henri: The Album & the Character
The Fire Fight released their 14-track brainchild, “Henri”, in 2009, which is a design feat in itself. “Henri” was released as a concept album, based on the protagonist Henri (a bear), and his adventures in the fictional town Elemenopee. For me, reviewing the jacket design as gorgeous as this one is like hearing the words “paid vacation”. From a designer’s perspective, this first release warrants an extremely good first impression. Excuse me while I gush about it photographically:
The delicate brush strokes over the solid black lines and vibrant yet peaceful imagination that compose the cover’s artwork is created by Jonathan Chan, the vocalist of Singaporean group Plainsunset, which is yet another band I hope to get around to listening to in-depth.
The Fire Fight Sound
Overall, it is a happy record, and yet there is an apparent rawness in the characteristic of the songs that is quite reminiscent of unreleased studio version of hidden gems of 90’s alternative groups. There doesn’t appear to be any notion of random picking in terms of track arrangement; indeed the album is a story waiting to be told from song to song. The album begins with “Sonnet”, a number strong on the guitar riffs and a bouncy beat, combined with the surprisingly cooling voice of Joshua Tan. While the quality of his voice sinks into the psyche, “The City” acts as a minute and a half transitional track into a slower tempo. It settles to a melodic ballad in “Portrait Lover” (my personal favourite), keeping the mellowness right in the mid-section before picking up speed in “Beware! Monster”. “Train Song” depicts a resolution that almost sounds like a happily ever after. Clearly there is a story written within the songs, but perhaps it’s up to the listener to determine and iron out its finer details.
The implementation of a concept album has succeeded in giving a highly suggested directive in the way the listener experiences “Henri”. (But that is not to say that listening to the record in random is less of a fulfilling experience than hearing the songs in the order depicted on the record.) The anthropomorphic main character and fairy-tale quality of the story shown in the jacket encourage one to channel their inner child, but the order of the songs unravel a story, which connects cleverly with the physical design of the album. All 14 of the tracks are each treated to an individual illustration by Jonathan Chan, tying it all up and making it a unique visual and listening experience.