Album : Wink
Label: Sub Pop Records
Release Date: 21/05/2021
CHAI came across on their 2019 album as the distilled essence of joy, and if you watch their chaotic happiness explosion interview with Nardwaur The Human Serviette, you’ll get an apt frame of reference. The Japanese four piece are on a mission, possibly from god, to redefine cute. PUNK was the first leg of that offensive and one in which they embarked on a kaleidoscopic flurry of bright neon colours and bombastic music all tied together with consummate pop pomp and circumstance. When singles were steadily drip fed in the lead up to WINK, gone were the palpable, high energy smiles. Rather, CHAI are practising a calm and quiet confidence. It’s an approach that reflects itself in music that has mellowed and is measured. The signs were present on their debut but CHAI have now embraced this part of their personality completely, enlisting some notable collaborators to help them out.
Five food related songs have the neo-kawaii champions retain their endearing qualities as they venture into more electronic territory, complete with dreamy overlays, programmed drums and digital punchiness. That punchiness isn’t apparent on the opener Donuts Mind If I Do but you are offered swathes of enticing atmosphere instead. There’s a hint of Fishmans’ washed out melodies, albeit adroitly modernised. On top of a rudimentary drum pattern, CHAI take full advantage of their exploratory foray into programmed percussion as shudders and pops make their way into the sound. Both ACTION and END position CHAI as teachers while they spell out the title of each song. The former opens through a hi-hat rattle and jaunty synth warbles. Under the spine, this bass line muscles along and when it breaks out, fully, into a thumping beat of its own, it floors you for a moment before eliciting the reaction of “man, they fucking nailed that drop”. Vocals layer over themselves and melt together in an airy way. The latter of the two is helmed by this breakbeat that Humphrey B. Flaubert would sound at home over. Again, an aggressive bass line toils away under the noise. Outside our low end friend and phasing transitions between verse to chorus, there’s not a great deal else to the song. Nobody Knows We Are Fun has CHAI breathing lyrics backed by a swaggering instrumental. Choral like vocals during the midpoint breakdown are the only remnants of the band’s shotgun energy. Hearing them tone down boundless joy and working within a more dancey track is immediately offset with their bouncy worship of Its’ Vitamin C. Back once more are breathy vocals but now they’re played off spoken / sung verses. Of all the unexpected collaborations I never knew I wanted, CHAI enlisting Stones Throw stalwart MNDSGN was certainly a welcome surprise. A surprise that comfortably fits within WINK. The playful nature of both artists is on full display here while the quartet go between that spoken delivery and sighed singing and the producer’s sweet croon bobs over some groove-laden leads. We go full dance pop during Miracle with chopped, jangly guitar chords and this squelched undercurrent grooving things along. Wish Upon A Star slows us down and smooths things over before passing the baton to Salty; an ironically sweet way to finish the record as everything glides to a close.
We’re now at the end of the second charm-offensive to redefine the concept cute and I’m fully on the side of CHAI. To go from an unabated stream of flat out, wholesome power-pop energy, sliding effortlessly into the digital domain but without losing their inherent appeal is a brilliant move and one that makes so much sense when you see it in action. Like, of course this is what CHAI were going to do next. Who was I to doubt it? I won’t question the four headed neon hydra, ever again.
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