Label: Sub Pop
Released: 21st May 2021
After two albums of joyful mayhem driven by a bubblegum-punk attitude, you might not have expected CHAI to pivot to introspective, smooth bops. But, then again, CHAI aren’t exactly predictable.
The Japanese “neo-kawaii” four-piece made a bold splash with ‘PINK’ and ‘PUNK’; two unshakeably confident albums about self-love and defying societal norms. Rebellious in their colourful exuberance, it felt like witnessing a revolution. Four young women finding comfort in their own path.
While their latest album ‘WINK’ shares little of that maximalist energy, it’s still distinctly CHAI. Funny, empowering and insanely catchy. Here, their ethos is cemented from the off with ‘Donuts Mind If I Do’. Born from a guiltless indulgence of doughnut samples, it’s all about living free and with conviction.
It’s also the first time we hear CHAI’s more low-key approach; all woozy synths and rolling bass lines. Real Kaytranada or Knxwledge cool. Other than the frenetic ‘END’, with shades of ‘Hello Nasty’-era Beastie Boys, and chiptune inspired ‘PING PONG’, things are much more hushed and starry.
‘Wish Upon A Star’ offers a sparse yet beautiful little lullaby as the album winds down. Ode to their favourite colour ‘In Pink’, meanwhile, enlists chilled beatmaker Mndsgn for a track that adds a dash of West Coast sunshine. For a band that revel in the camp and uncool, however, it can feel a little too cool. You’ll find few intimidating spiky edges here.
But even when you might be longing for the over the top sugar rush of their previous albums, it’s their infectious, carefree attitude that keeps ‘WINK’ interesting. If there’s one thing that’s definitely persisted, it’s their love of food. From likening moles to chocolate chips on ‘Maybe Chocolate Chips’ to heartache inspired by fried food on ‘KARAAGE’. It’s simple and silly, but it’s always endearing. And that’s what makes CHAI magic.
They might worry that nobody knows they are fun, but ‘WINK’ shows they have fun in abundance. With a generosity to their humour and a spirited approach to making music, CHAI invite you into their club. As they sing on ‘ACTION’, “everything is ok / Because I believe in you and me”. Rather than a revolution, this is a comfort. Because, after all, who doesn’t want to feel like they’ve got a team on their side through thick and thin?