Mikami Chisako is the sole songwriter of fra-foa, and hers is the only image pictured on the band’s album covers.
So what need does she have for a solo project?
Mikami may be the driving creative voice behind her group, like Mukai Shuutoku was for Number Girl and Billy Corgan was for Smashing Pumpkins. But like those bands, fra-foa the group produces a chemistry that pushes Mikami’s songs to another level.
It’s possible she could have recorded 2001’s Chuu no Fuchi by her lonesome, but it wouldn’t have possessed the intensity provided by guitarist Takashi Seiji, bassist Hiratsuka Manbu and drummer Sasaki Koji.
With that signature synergy comes expectations, and releasing an album under a different name — even if it’s your own — could certainly skirt them.
Watashi wa Anata no Uchuu, Mikami’s solo debut, is vastly different from fra-foa.
She indulges in a more ethereal sound, still grounded in a rock sensibility but far more liberal with time and space. (“Uchuu” means “universe” in Japanese, so it’s a fitting cosmic theme.)
As a result, Mikami’s singing comes across as more fragile, her voice breaking not from the intense wail of her parent ensemble, but from an uneasy tenderness. She scrapes the opening high note of “Fundamental (I)”, and it doesn’t sound out of place, even if it’s painful to hear.
Mikami goes for the atmospherics of irony-era ACO on “Natsukashi Chikyuu” and “Tuki”, while “Viva La Revolucion” and “Chiisana” attempt to combine rock guitars with synthetic beats.
“Chiisana”, in fact, is the most fra-foa-like song in terms of melody, but in mood, it couldn’t be any more different.
Watashi wa Anata no Uchuu is full of experiments — songs blending in with one another, strings weaving in with drum machines, guitars alternately rumbling and chiming.
And somehow, the production seems to bury Mikami. There’s a flatness to the way all the different instruments are mixed that it feels like everything could fly apart at any moment.
Perhaps that’s the key element to fra-foa’s chemistry, or rather, physics.
Watashi wa Anata no Uchuu is too awash in its ambience to resonate. And Mikami’s more understated performance at times feels like she’s sleepwalking through her songs.
At the same, it’s also very obvious these songs just wouldn’t work with fra-foa. “Chiisana” and the hidden track “Rain” come close, but the rest of the songs certainly needed to stand on their own.
In the end, it still boils down to expectations. Mikami may have attempted to avoid comparrisons with fra-foa, but the precedent of her own songwriting and performance overshadows the work on Watashi wa Anata no Uchuu.