Chai: Punk review – harebrained gang bring positive pop vibes

Empowerment has become a dead-eyed concept, more commonly employed to sell women the things that sustain their insecurities in the first place rather than imbuing them with any sense of fortitude. On their second album, Japanese four-piece Chai reclaim the idea and rebuke the industries that appropriated it under the guise of selling hair products and kawaii (cute) beauty standards. They bring to mind the Go-Go’s playing in a vast games arcade: their weapons are aggressive optimism, brawny low-end, harebrained energy and inviting gang vocals that invite anyone who feels the same way to become a “family member” or join them on a “curly adventure”, to list two of the endearing English phrases that leap from their predominantly Japanese lyrics.

Chai: Punk album artwork

Punk is the follow-up to their 2017 album Pink, and it sacrifices some of that record’s compellingly jagged chaos. Here, like Phoenix circa Bankrupt!, Chai amplify the density of their sound, adding synths that churn like vacuum cleaners (Choose Go!) and blown-out, enveloping risers (Feel the Beat). Occasionally, it’s too much: mantra This Is Chai repeats a sampled brass fanfare to the point of delirium and sounds like psychotic circus music. But mostly, their juxtaposition of heft and nimble weirdness is an exhilarating delight: the way sourness creeps into Mana’s voice (they don’t give surnames) in the valedictory Wintime, which ends in a peal of bells; the ballooning synths and determined sweetness of their last song, Future. “Nothing is stopping me!” they exclaim. A joyful revolution.

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