Light vs. dark

For anyone who loved the hulking bravado of fra-foa’s debut album Chuu no Fuchi, this next bit of news may come as a disappointment.

fra-foa has softened its edges.

The Japanese quartet’s second album, 13 Leaves, foregoes the megaloud, superslow sound of its predecessor for something more majestic and midtempo.

It’s a 180-degree creative turn for the band — something fans blown away by the devastatingly emotional performance of bandleader Mikami Chisako may find hard to accept.

But just because the overall tone has changed doesn’t mean it’s affected the quality of the songwriting.

13 Leaves is an entirely different album from Chuu no Fuchi, but both don’t wear thin with repeated playing. In fact, once a listener embraces fra-foa’s softer sound, 13 Leaves becomes highly addictive.

“Light of Sorrow” and “Green Day” have the trappings of ballads without ever losing their hard rock muscle. “Lily” harkens to the compound meter of “Mahiru no Himitsu”.

“Edge of Life” could have been an outtake during Smashing Pumpkins’ sessions for Gish, while “Blind Star” features Mikami stretching the upper regions of her beautiful falsetto.

Instead of infusing fra-foa with the grunge-y sheen he gave Cocco, producer Takamune Negishi applies the more approachable sound he used on Shiratori Maika’s Hanazono — lots of acoustic guitars in the background, with reverb effects supplantaing straight-forward distortion.

For this set of songs, it was the right choice.

Mikami’s writing has allowed much more light into her songs, as evidenced by such sweet tracks as “Perfect Life” and “Kienai Yoru ni”. A menacing wall of guitars just wouldn’t have worked here.

fra-foa took the risky dare not to replicate its first album, and it’s succeeded in delivering an album totally different but equally engaging.