It’s nearly impossible not to give yourself over to the fiercely endearing charm of Chai. Shirking the reductive cutesy expectations society places on the shoulders of Japanese women, the Nagoya pop punk quartet is able to weaponize adorability, redefining kawaii in the process. With their uplifting sophomore effort, Chai aren’t holding anything back, taking the hyperactive, vivacious sound they crafted on their sprightly debut to its extreme in a whirlwind of gripping sincerity and effervescent stamina.
Punk opens with a bang, as the jolt of electricity surging through “Choose Go!” (which, intentionally or otherwise, calls to mind the same kinetic intensity as the Go! Team) commands the listener to move along with the beat. The verses are filled with animated cheerleading chants, as if at any moment the band is going to break out into their own spirited version of “Be aggressive! B-E aggressive!” There’s a camaraderie to the harmonization of these tracks, and each one feels like a true team effort. It’s rare to see bandmates who seem to all be riding the exact same wavelength, particularly this early in their career. And so it’s no wonder that they spend the album building each other up with touching self-esteem boosts like the playful, conversational “Great Job” and the bubbly, affirmational “I’m Me.”
Above all, the album is a blast. For nearly every moment, from the bouncy hand claps of silky smooth “Family Member” to the electro dream pop wonderland that is “Curly Adventure,” Punk feels as though it were birthed out of good vibes and a healthy dose of caffeine. Unless you’re helplessly cynical, you’ll have a smile plastered on your face as the girls revel in excess on “Fashionista.” Even when the album leans into the bittersweet with “Feel the Beat,” an update on the classic girl group sound, it quickly transitions into its energetic sendoff “Future,” leaving us looking forward into the horizon. Most of the album’s lyrics are in Japanese, but the enthusiastic atmosphere transcends the language barrier in a way that is sure to pull in even those listeners who have no idea of the minutiae of the stanzas.
You’ve got to love a group that has the audacity to save their band introduction for halfway through their second album (with the industrial, bombastic “This Is Chai”). That’s just how they operate. It’s difficult to put neat, tidy labels on Chai. They’re in-your-face punk rockers when they want to be, but they can also play like Spice Girls disciples, as on the slowed down sing-a-long “Wintime.” However you define their sound, there simply isn’t enough of it. Punk clocks in right at 30 minutes, but it hits like a hurricane, exploring oh so many varied ideas and firmly establishing Chai as a force to be reckoned with.