Japanese four-piece CHAI burst onto the scene in 2017, and have since released a flurry of records over the ensuing half-decade.
Signed to rock royalty Sub Pop, the label has given the quartet the creative freedom to push boundaries and create these viscerally different records.
This self titled effort, however, sees CHAI return to their joyous funk-pop roots, drawing inspiration from their cultural heritage and pulling influences from the music they all enjoyed in their formative years.
Tied closely to CHAI, the new record and their live shows is “Neo Kawaii”, a phrase that has become something of a war cry for the group, and the phrase is bellowed throughout their live shows by band members and punters alike. The four-piece use the “Neo Kawaii” shout as one of defiance, pushing back against unfair beauty and image standards aimed at women worldwide.
The record is one of pure nostalgia, evoking pop melodies and sounds of the 80’s and 90’s throughout. There is no hint of outdated or stale songs though, they approach the nostalgia with fresh eyes and sounds, complementing the pieces with fresh, modern beats. ‘Matcha’, the opener, achieves this well, with swirling synths and groovy open hi-hats. There are moments of pure pop-elation, especially on the cut ‘From 1992’, which is a sickly sweet pop number straight from the early 90’s.
The relentlessly positive energy is palpable throughout, and it’s impossible to listen to CHAI without beaming like a Cheshire cat. The record contrasts their previous effort’ WINK, which was a little more laid back and groovy, whereas the self-titled record is full-on, in-your-face funk pop nostalgia.
‘Neo Kawaii, K?’ is the high point of the record, where CHAI rage against the beauty standards designed to put women down. They are confident and self-assured in their defiance, and its a look the band pull off really well – feminist rage set to funk pop is an utter delight to behold, and CHAI wears it with aplomb.
Cute and Kawaii whilst also defiant and subversive is an impressive line to walk, but CHAI are masters at their craft. Whilst the foursome are defiant in their war on gender ideology and sexist double standards in Japan (and the rest of the world) there are also gorgeous moments where the group profess love for their culture, more specifically, Tokyo-born pop subgenre ‘City Pop’, which, again CHAI are absolute masters at. Their sheer musical talent shines through in their adaptability, and the self-titled record is nothing short of a triumph.