It seems almost inconceivable to dislike CHAI. Coming up in their native Japan via a SXSW Asia audition; signing to the savvy Burger Records shortly thereafter; dismantling the reductive super-cuteness of kawaii for their own positive ends via their charmingly choreographed videos — their story seems worlds away from the kind of slick, corporatized J-pop that is sadly often the only exposure casual listeners have to their country's music. The four women of CHAI have an aura of authenticity that is truly refreshing.
In any event, if you snapped up 2018's Pink and were pleased with your instincts, prepare to have them gloriously vindicated with Punk, as it's basically better in every way, another sophisticated but totally accessible mix of punk, funk, indie pop, and dance-rock, all brimming with just the kind of energy and exuberance you'd expect from a young band just given their first break in the U.S. Fans of the sort of Day-Glo joyousness of the Go! Team, or the amusing weirdness of Superorganism — or just fun and exciting pop music in general — should be pre-ordering Punk right now.
Opening with the quick, one-two punch of previously released singles "Choose Go!" and "Great Job," the album soon settles into one of its more sublime pop vehicles on third track "I'm Me," an uplifting and melodic mid-tempo number featuring a sky-scraping vocal bridge that's only the first stop-everything-and-listen moment. The wistful background whooping that runs through "Family Member" is another — it sounds like the song is being performed live at some kind of wholesome family reunion (it's worth noting that main vocalists Mana and Kana are identical twins, and their voices harmonize as well as you might expect).
Penultimate track "Feel the Beat" offers up the album's one patch of melancholy, but things end with the winningly positive "Future," which opens with a young child breathlessly expressing their love of hockey, a tone one could easily adopt to describe this excellent album.
The only downside to Punk is that half of it has been available already via singles and videos, so be prepared for only five new songs if you've been following closely. Those new to the band are in for a real treat however. Punk is a huge step forward for CHAI, and easily one of the best albums of the year. (Burger Records)