CHAI – PUNK (Burger Records)

CHAI love capital letters. “C-H-A-I CHAI! WE ARE CHAI!” they shout on ‘THIS IS CHAI’, an irresistible calling card with a throbbing electronic bassline running riot over a heavily cut-up sample of a marching band, a track that tells you everything you need to know about this utterly thrilling Japanese experimental pop foursome, four young women on a mission to disabuse you of the notion that Japanese pop culture is all about kawaii (cute).

PUNK’s breathless half-hour is like a night out in some bustling, modern part of Tokyo – Shinjuku or Ueno for example; all noise, high-tech, LED, general sensory assault, disorientation and culture shock. In its constant desire to batter the listener over the head with sheer sonic overload it is reminiscent of Sleigh Bells’ inexplicably underrated debut album Treats, topped off with superficially cutesy vocals which mask a rapier wit and a highly satirical view of Japanese society.

So the pulsing electronic pop of ‘GREAT JOB’ takes a potshot at the advertising of cleaning products, as if a clean house is every Japanese woman’s ultimate aspiration (“Do you do housework? It’s a great job! It’s a great job! GET POWER FRESH FEELING!!!”), whilst the pounding ‘I’m Me’, the album’s big-chorused killer pop tune, challenges expectations of how a Japanese girl is supposed to look and behave (“I put butter on my steak…my pink arse is my charm”), and ‘Curly Adventure’ takes aim at the popularity of Western hair products.

Sonically, PUNK is all over the place and I mean that as a compliment. Post-punk, indie, funk, synthpop and R&B are all thrown into the blender and spat out with boundless enthusiasm. ‘Wintime’ is driven by marvellously melancholy, echoing guitar; ‘FAMILY MEMBER’ is the funkiest thing you’ll hear all year, a Japanese take on the sadly forgotten CSS; whilst ‘Feel the BEAT’ and ‘FUTURE’ are, huge, CHVRCHES-style widescreen synthpop.

Loud, hook-laden bubblegum pop with a defiant message of individuality and independence. From Japan. What’s not to love?

PUNK is released on 15th March through Burger Records.

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