Chai is a Japanese quartet comprised of twin sisters Mana (vocals/keyboards) and Kana (guitar) plus bassist/lyricist Yuuki and drummer Yuna. Formed in Nagoya in 2012, the group’s name was, in fact, inspired by the popular Russian tea. The four musicians came together to create music that would exist outside of the formulaic J-Pop music that infiltrated the charts. Their own musical tastes were drawn towards experimental Pop and Hip-Hop and they embraced a style that reflected all of their individual tastes. The band began playing live locally before they moved on to play more gigs in Tokyo. With songs written by Mana, Kana, and Yuuki, Chai released three singles between 2013 and 2014 before releasing their first EP, HOTTARAKA SERIES, in 2015. Two years later, they released their second EP, HOMEGORO SERIES, in April of 2017. As their commercial profile continued to grow, anticipation for an album did the same.
When their debut album PINK was released in late 2017, it presented a band without stylistic limitations. From Punk to Disco, Hip-Hop to Bubblegum Pop, each song had its own vibrant personality. Filled with youthful energy and the desire to exceed expectations from fans and critics, the album sounded like an armful of genres tossed into a washing machine’s spin cycle. Like a mixture of the polished charm of Puffy and the raw energy of Shonen Knife – Chai was a unique band right out of the gate. Their second album PUNK (2019) saw the quartet expand their musical universe while still sticking to their own unique take on Pop music. In fact, it was getting more difficult to call them a Pop band because… well, they weren’t. Chai was something else. The band was a hybrid – an experiment that took musical expression to a new level. They didn’t play J-Pop, K-Pop, or any other manufactured style of music – they played Chai-Pop. So, with fans and critics in their back pockets, all eyes – and especially ears – were on Chai to see which direction they would go on their third album…
WINK, Chai’s highly anticipated 2021 album, takes the quartet in slightly different directions. With a more focused approach to their songs, the album ups the Soul and Hip-Hop influences, showing that all four members have matured as songwriters and performers. Although the title of opening track is humorous – “Donut Mind If I Do” – the song’s blending of modern production and soulful ‘70s melody is haunting and quite lovely. “Maybe Chocolate Chips” has a laid-back Hip-Hop groove and includes an appearance from rapper Ric Wilson. The album still has plenty of fun moments – “Ping Pong” (featuring YMCK) and “END” come to mind – but WINK is a big musical step forward for Chai. In the past, they’ve created music that was born from kinetic energy, but now they are spending more time crafting their songs, creating atmospheres with their sounds, and reshaping their sound to reflect the people they are now and the times we live in. We all grow up and our tastes evolve as we make our way in this world. Chai have chosen not to remain young whippersnappers and they’ve created music that reflects their view of the world and their thoughts and feelings. But let’s be honest- they are still as fun as they’ve ever been. This time, though, they aren’t afraid to hide behind giggles and glow worms. Chai has grown up. Have you?