When Japanese quartet CHAI released 2018 debut ‘PINK’, their MO was a straightforward one. A bright and brilliant blitzkrieg of hyperactive dance-punk, they arrived with the self-labelled genre of ‘Neo-Kawaii’ - the new cute - and a canon of tracks aiming to promote self-acceptance and make a giddy, glorious racket whilst doing it. The following year’s ‘PUNK’ cast them as the lost band nu-rave always wanted, but it’s with third LP ‘WINK’ that the four-piece are trying something akin to restraint. Opening with the gloriously-titled ‘Donuts Mind If I Do’ - a hazy, nostalgic pop track born for a chiffon-clad, ‘70s Top of the Pops performance - what follows is an unexpected curveball; the linguistic quirks remain, but sonically, CHAI are testing out a whole new palette. Take ‘Maybe Chocolate Chips’ (featuring rapper Ric Wilson) - yes, it’s a pure-CHAI analogy about loving your moles, but musically it’s an R&B slow jam of breathy, cooing vocals and stripped-back, woozy keys. The Booksmart-inspired ‘Nobody Knows We Are Fun’ (an absolute whopper of a lie for a start), meanwhile, is all wobbly basslines and chilled house. Even when they’re going slightly bigger - ‘END’ nods to a Beastie Boys style of hard beats, while ‘PING PONG’ sounds like it’s been trapped inside a ‘90s Game Boy - there’s still a measuredness that wasn’t there before. We’d never want CHAI to lose their pep, but there’s something pleasing about watching them grow into something new.
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