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Japanese band CHAI take their influences from a wide range of sources; everything from '90s hip-hop and bouncy alt-rock to scratchy post-punk, smooth soft rock and gleefully bumping R&B goes into their energetic, fully realized sound. They call their music "neo-kawaii" and aim for authenticity and inclusion while also making eye-catching videos that express their empowering vision. The band's two albums, 2017's Pink and 2019's Punk, were energetic, wide-ranging introductions to the guitar-heavy, punky side of the band. Later releases take a more measured musical tack -- 2021's Wink detours into slick modern pop & R&B, while 2023's CHAI updates city pop -- while still transmitting all the joy and energy of earlier work. The group formed in Nagoya in the early 2010s when identical twins Mana (vocals/keys) and Kana (guitar/vocals) began playing music together while still in high school. They asked drummer Yuna to join the band, then later added bassist Yuuki to the lineup, and decided on the name CHAI. While at school, the band took a backseat to the girls' studies, but once they decided they would rather hit stages instead of books, they moved to Tokyo and began taking the group more seriously. They moved into a house together, started playing shows, and released an EP, Hottaraka Series, in late 2015. The band followed it a few months later with another EP, Homegoro Series. They also branched out into making videos that featured them dressed in pink and doing goofy choreographed dance moves. Their music and visuals were impressive enough to Sony Music Entertainment Japan that the company signed them and released a batch of singles in 2017. That same year, the band won the SXSW Asia audition and traveled to Austin before hitting a handful of other cities in the U.S. CHAI's debut album, Pink, was released in 2017, and the video for one of the tracks caught the attention of California's Burger Records. They put a song by the group on a compilation of Japanese bands called Burger World: Japan and reissued the album in America in early 2018. CHAI launched a tour of the States and released the Wagama-mania EP in May. They also signed with Heavenly in the U.K. and toured there supporting Superorganism. Once off the road, they began work on their second long-player, Punk. The group consolidated their influences and focused the sound for the album, though the songs remained exuberant and energy packed. It was released in March 2019 by the team of Burger, Heavenly, and their longtime Japanese label, Otemoyan Record. The band did a fair bit of touring afterwards, touring with Whitney and Mac DeMarco as well as playing big festivals like Primavera and Pitchfork. CHAI released a handful of singles during 2020 -- a collaboration with Hinds on "United Girls Rock'n'Roll Club," "No More Cake," and "Keep On Rocking" -- while working on their third album. Recorded using GarageBand, with the members trading ideas on Zoom calls since they couldn't get together in person, the songs are inspired more than ever by modern pop and R&B. Featuring an appearance from Chicago rapper Ric Wilson and the production help of Mndsgn and YMCK, 2021's Wink was the band's debut for Sub Pop Records. Once the group were able to, they headed back out on tour and wrote songs as they traveled. Along they way they visited studios such as Ometusco Sound Machine in Mexico City and Stones Throw in Los Angeles, recording a set of tracks that were heavily influenced by the smooth R&B and soft rock sounds of city pop, a style that was very popular during the '80s in Japan. The quartet give the sound an energetic update and a strong shot of their usual empowering message. The self-titled record was released by Sub Pop in September of 2023.
© Tim Sendra /TiVo
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