CHAI - Pink - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

CHAI - Pink

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:2018-09-07
CHAI - Pink
CHAI - Pink

Japan's CHAI formed in 2012. Led by identical twins Mana (vocals/keys) and Kana (guitar), along with friends from school, Yuna (drums), and Yuuki (bass), CHAI offer what is easily the most bizarrely pleasurable listening experience of 2018. CHAI's sound is a bit like the results of throwing The Breeders, Devo, Deee-Lite and a splash of J-Pop into a blender - a very noisy, distorted blender. Deceptively complex rhythmic structures, fuzzy guitar distortion and aggressively twee vocals combine into an undeniably catchy, pop-punk extravaganza. Even the most Westernized listener will find Pink's sonic charms irresistible when, for example, on the single "N.E.O., Mana declares her affection for someone with a staccato chant: "You! Are! So! Cute! Nice! Face! C'mon! Yeah!" While the childlike vocals are adorable both in pitch and passion, the rest of the band lays down a flawless punk foundation which subverts any notion that CHAI is music made by or for children. Kana's soaring guitar riff and Yuna's speeding drums propel Mana's cheering vocals into the stratosphere as if the band were being launched into space on the back of a rocket. In fact, much of Pink seems to subvert the Western notions of Japan as precious or childlike or weird by throwing out stark contrasts between the band's image and music. Nothing on Pink is any weirder than the average Pixies or Talking Heads track and most are just as catchy. 

In terms of contemporary artists, CHAI's sound fits well within the same genre that bands like White Lung, Screaming Females and Diarrhea Planet call home. The band's distorted guitars, the bombastic drums and big-butt bass sound have all been honed to perfection. While CHAI seem image conscious, they also seem to have spent significantly more of their time together rehearsing and tightening their sound into a seamless, cohesive unit. On "Boys Secco Men" the band locks into a funk groove which is dominated by Yuuki's deft bass work/tone. The track ricochets back and forth between each pulse of the bass at a leisurely pace until exploding into a shower of keyboards and fuzzy guitars, turning the chorus into a glittering showcase of the band's deep understanding of pop. The vocals are cute enough to be appealing but shrill enough to be edgy. The keys and guitars provide jagged little flourishes which support the robust bassline but never overstep.

"Horechatta" is a tight little love song which allows Mana's vocals to move away from the shouting and into crooning. "Horechatta" is, in the best way, an all-female, Japanese take on the sound of Hall & Oates in their prime. The wah-wah pedal, snap-tight drums and Mana's wistful vocals creating some of the smoothest yacht rock you're likely to hear in 2018. "Fried" sounds like Stereolab on speed which evolves into an electro flurry of keys and vocals as it races to a tight, clocking in just under three minutes, conclusion. "She Is Kitty", is probably Pink's most directly referential/reverential track. The "cha!" Chris Frantz used to punctuate the Stop Making Sense version of Tom Tom Club's hit, "Genius of Love" makes its way onto "She Is Kitty", along with a similar riff and beat combo. "Gyranboo" is a cacophonous mess which opens with the band baa'ing like sheep and then switches into a funk groove peppered with chants, samples, bizarre tempo changes and a batshit vocal performance by Mana. It's almost too much, including the kitchen sink, to be enjoyable.

Overall, Pink makes for a bracing listen in much the same way as a slap in the face makes for a bracing wake-up. The realization that bands like CHAI exist but go mostly ignored, outside the culture of fetishization we've created, is almost as startling as the landslide of pop-punk delight awaiting Pink's unsuspecting listeners. There's no cure for the way the West perceives the East but a good start would be listening to CHAI without preconceived notions about J-pop or Japanese culture or the "bizarre Asia" stereotype that we impose on anything different, anything Other. Instead, think of the first time you heard Surfer Rosa or The Strokes "Last Nite" and prepare to have your brain reset again by the power of loud, pop music coming from a slightly different, place and voice than you're accustomed to. Whatever you do, don't allow something this good to go ignored or to be ruined by someone's inability to separate capitalism from their sex life. CHAI's Pink is a glorious accomplishment from a talented band. Any other labels or qualifiers only get in the way of enjoying one of 2018's best records.  

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