Album Review: CHAI—’PUNK’

Posted: by The Editor

Fullerton, CA’s Burger Records is known to have its feet in both the past and present. Their roster contains many artists that pay homage to the music that came before them, and the label has even reissued some classic 1960s garage rock themselves.

On January 15, 2018, Burger announced their signing of the Japanese band CHAI in the US, and the impending re-release of their 2017 debut , Pink. Upon listening to that album, it’s apparent that CHAI does share Burger’s traits in their classic and contemporary sound—but with a rather unique execution that seems headed toward the future. 

On Pink, CHAI displayed a unique blend of post-punk and J-pop, a combination that is not totally new, as that has been explored in various Shibuya-kei artists (a subgenre of Japanese rock that took influence from Western music artists, exemplified by bands such as Flipper’s Guitar). But CHAI are able to bring the sound into something that is undeniably modern, and  wouldn’t sound out of place amongst the pop of today. Not to say that they’re like any other pop act. Songs like “N.E.O.” and “Gyaranboo” lean more towards the realm of post-punk. Others like “Fried” are centered on pop. And songs like “Hi Hi Baby,” “Horechatta,” and “Walking Star” hit a perfect middle ground that made Pink such a fantastic, singular debut. 

On their sophomore effort, PUNK, they draw from the inspirations they have worn on their sleeves, such as Basement Jaxx, Devo, and the Tom Tom Club, making for a more refined approach that doesn’t sacrifice any of their infectious energy. 

In the titling of their album. they emphasize that it is not “punk” in relation to their sound, but rather in its intent to “overturn the worn-out values associated with ‘kawaii’ or ‘cute’ created up to this point,” and CHAI’s lyrics make it clear they’re not interested in such clichés.

Primarily penned by bassist Yuuki, the lyrics, sung in a mixture of Japanese and English, and backed by music composed by lead vocalist and keyboardist Mana and guitarist Kana, turn every song into small anthems. Topics range from making a personal change and self-confidence, to the joys of having curly hair and acknowledging the act of housecleaning as self-care. Their songs have the power to get anyone off their seats and take part in such activities, all while singing along.

It’s not easy to describe CHAI’s sound through words, but with this second album, it’s clear that they have the ear for infectious melodies and hooks, making strong modern pop songs that all reside within the framework of guitars, drums, and keys. Pulsing synth charges through “Great Job,” with Yuna’s drums complementing the song’s rush of energy. “I’m Me” begins with a lo-fi intro by Mana, its lightness giving way to power upon the rest of the band kicking into gear, supporting reflections of “I don’t know about the world, but I know me.”

“This Is Chai” is a dance floor rave-up built around a crashing sample, matched with the hitting synth and drums that had been center stage in “Great Job.” The guitar and bass of Kana and Yuuki are vital to the music as well, with their jumps from funk grooviness to heavy post-punkiness evident in tracks such as the attention-demanding “Fashionista,” a song that is possibly a perfect encapsulation of CHAI’s sound. 

CHAI has never been a band to be slept on, but PUNK has the strength to make those who were to wake up and listen. With two great under albums under their belt, CHAI’s star will continue to rise, and you want to be around when it does.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great Phenomenal

David A. Gutierrez | @dagewts

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