CHAI – ‘WINK’ review: punks go pop with healing third album

The Japanese four-piece return with their smoothest, most comforting record yet, serving up ‘80s-tinged guitar pop and even a soothing lullaby

Like everyone else over the last near-18 months, CHAI found themselves shut away in their homes, unable to live their lives as freely as they’re used to. When it came time to start work on their third album – and first for legendary label Sub Pop – lockdown influenced the Japanese four-piece’s writing. What started coming out were songs that provided comfort, in many different forms.

Album three is CHAI’s smoothest record to date – so much so it includes one song intended to be a lullaby for guitarist Kana. ‘Wish Upon A Star’’s soft piano chords resemble a train gently chugging down a countryside track, carrying the listener off to a new relaxing destination. There’s no official word whether bassist Yuuki’s composition did the trick for her bandmate, but it’s not hard to imagine it being effective.

Soothing support doesn’t just take the path of easing you off to sleep, though. Across ‘WINK’’s 12 tracks, there are songs to help with insecurities (‘Maybe Chocolate Chips’, which recommends looking at your moles as chocolate chips to help you love them more) and helping tap into nostalgia on the short-but-sweet ‘Salty’, which captures the idea of tapping into memories through taste. Fittingly, it was written and recorded in singer and keyboardist Mana’s kitchen and the sounds of food prep and day-to-day life in the background, lightly prodding you to head to your own kitchen and cook up your own remembrances.


The ‘80s-tinged guitar pop of ‘ACTION’, meanwhile, offers words of courage and consolation to those who protested for Black Lives Matter last year. Although it was inspired by that specific wave of protests, its message continues to be relevant as hate crimes against Asian people continue to rise worldwide and people take to the streets to show solidarity with Palestine. “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s going to be OK,” CHAI sing. “Action is more than words.

‘WINK’ also finds the quartet working with outside producers for the first time. Japanese chiptune group YMCK appear on ‘PING PONG!’, transporting their collaborators into the 8-bit sounds of an old-school games console. On ‘IN PINK’, LA-based alt-hip-hop artist Mndsgn helps CHAI tap into a classic mellow Californian sound, loping hip-hop beats propelling the track to a summery and balmy atmosphere.

CHAI’s latest album might arrive just as the world begins to open up, but it will continue to dole out reassurance and relief long after the pandemic era has finally come to an end.


CHAI WINK review

Label: Sub Pop
Release date: May 21

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