If ever a band existed whose members were their biggest fans, it’s CHAI. Self name-dropping may have become a lost art (save for the likes of Kvelertak, maybe), but CHAI takes that a hell of a lot further. After delivering their own self-aware performance with “This Is Chai” back in 2019, now they’re helping everyone champion themselves a little bit more with a self-titled fourth outing, hollering their name, mantra and engrossing positivity which bursts out from the album cover to infinity.
One thing is clear: CHAI have always been cheerleaders for mankind no matter how hard that can often be. If you’re listening to CHAI, you’re part of CHAI, and you’ll find your own feelings of sadness, joy, elation or turmoil expressed somewhere. While this record’s moodboard of well-embraced cultural icons for the West (like matcha tea and karaoke) signifies the rolling stone momentum of Japan’s influence on entertainment around the world, the actual intention serves to better connect listeners everywhere to the band members’ own lived experiences as children and women in society, addressing gender norms (such as those attributed to kawaii), and showcasing their lesser-known artistic influences including city pop and two-step dance trends (“PARA PARA”).
CHAI have, throughout their rapid rise, never shrugged off these heavy discussion points despite fun loving synchronized dinosaur-clad dances and Hanna Barbera-style imagery. It’s all part of the vital mix. If you only want to reclaim a ’90s dance craze you once loved, go ahead and make a cheeky song about it. You shouldn’t take the childishness of “I Can’t Organizeeee” all too seriously, nor Kana’s reverb-soaked soaring guitar lead within, but “We The Female” greatly represents the idea of rocking whoever or whatever you want to be. The “put your hands up, yeah, yeah” of “NEO, KAWAII, K?” vibes hard even as a rallying cry against oppressive societal views to reclaim autonomy, making its case to extend to a 12-inch mix. While disco revivalism is poking its delightful head once again throughout modern pop, CHAI could lay claim to laying its rebuilding blocks in the heavy funk of past hit “FASHIONISTA”, and Yuuki’s bopping bass rises to the maximalist occasion on “Driving22” and “From 1992,” which also hilariously mocks the band’s strange expectation to reveal their ages.
Beyond the disco, producing the record with Ryu Takahashi has nostalgically captured Tokyo’s loungey city pop feel with aplomb, a sound unsurprisingly fitting a band that’s gone from fuzzed-out pop rock on “Curly Adventure” to dreamy neo-soul on “Donuts Mind If I Do.” But the genre-bending group also takes their breezy attitudes down whole new avenues; “MATCHA” could pass for a deep cut from Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun but looks to the left-field breakdowns of Tyler, the Creator, here featuring bass heavy synths, Eastern melodies, giggling and brrrr vocal warmups. Eurobeat love shines through the Robyn-esque “GAME” complete with glorious chromatic descending riff, and “KARAOKE” goes from a bewildering intro rush, like a night out on Four Loko, to syncopated Latin rhythms which Yuna gradually smoothes out to more simplistic 4/4 grooves. When CHAI gets bold and brash instrumentally and vocally, it’s a sign that we should all be doing the same in our own ways.
There’s intent underlying every nuance of CHAI: to reflect on what made us, to assess the problematic issues of the current age, and to remember better times to dance the troubles away. Entirely in their own lane, CHAI’s self-dubbed collection best represents them as performers, as people, and as purveyors of a bloody good time. If we were all like CHAI, the world would be a far brighter and more assured place.
Label: Sub Pop
Londoner. Writer. Proponent of easycore.