On their third album ‘WINK’, released in 2021, Japan’s CHAI took a more global outlook, expanding their creative circle to work with LA producer Mndsgn and Chicago hip-hop star Ric Wilson. Two years later, on their self-titled follow-up, the punk band are taking more influence from the sounds and culture of their home – but keeping themselves open to places further afield.
Although ‘CHAI’’s lyrics all stem from the four-piece’s experiences as Japanese women, they’re also largely easily transmutable or relatable to anyone from any country. On ‘From 1992’, the first time the band have confirmed how old they are, they discuss ageing with urgency, at first, before shrugging off the natural process of life. “Every minute we age / More wrinkles than yesterday, ha,” they sing, unperturbed. “I don’t care, haha.”
The gently funky groove of ‘I Can’t Organizeeee’ will strike a chord with anyone whose house is always a little chaotic, opening with a familiar scene-setting of: “Clothes and trash scattered around / I don’t even know where to start / I like to put things off until the last minute.” Closing song ‘Karaoke’, meanwhile, wraps things up in bright, joyful form as needling arpeggios mimic the uneven warblings that take place in the singing booths.
Even when CHAI are dealing in details specific to Japan, they do so in a way that’s easy to find yourself in – and that’s where this album’s magic lies. ‘Matcha’ – a crisp, woozy song inspired by Tyler, The Creator – nods to the self-reflective experience of properly making the titular tea. “Searching for myself I’ve yet to know, me time,” they sing, a practice that, especially in the last few years, many can relate to regardless of what beverages they have on hand.
‘Neo Kawaii, K’ returns to the philosophy the band have been spreading since they formed in 2017, flying against Japan’s kawaii culture, which many see as expecting women to fit into soft, cute and sweet boxes, squashing their individuality and expression. “This is just my body, not a trendy body,” CHAI assert over a sparkling collage of psych, funk and new wave. “Gonna be loved, baby! / Just as I am.” Their message of empowerment rises up earlier on ‘We The Female!’, that track’s spoken word chorus propelling their sentiment forward with insistent confidence.
Over the last six years, CHAI have quietly become one of punk’s most consistent and reliable bands, always sharing albums that are simultaneously fun, uplifting and thought-provoking. Their fourth full-length record is no different, serving up a gem of glittering, important songs.