CHAI's new album takes some unexpected turns, bringing new ideas into their kaleidoscopic sound

Album Review by Lewis Wade | 19 May 2021
Album title: WINK
Artist: CHAI
Label: Sub Pop
Release date: 21 May

With WINK, CHAI have finally placed a lid on their breakneck, technicolour punk, letting it simmer in the background while they embrace languid hip-hop grooves and woozy nostalgia.

The half-step pace is immediately apparent on opener, Donuts Mind If I Do (the first of several food-inspired songs), as the throwback beats billow around a tale of free donuts. The CHAI-on-ketamine vibe continues on Maybe Chocolate Chips, with Ric Wilson complementing the laidback production perfectly.

The mixing is heavily hip-hop indebted, mostly of the retro variety. There's a healthy smattering of 90s G-funk on IN PINK and It's Vitamin C (with nods to revivalists like Kaytranada, The Internet and Mndsgn, who's featured here) and 80s b-boy breaks on END.

PING PONG! features Japanese chiptune band YMCK to explore another avenue of 80s nostalgia, further cemented by the new wave Nobody Knows We Are Fun, a Booksmart-inspired look at social anxieties that offers a lot more than its exterior sheen suggests. Wish Upon a Star is almost doo-wop, as gentle as CHAI have ever been, before Salty ends the album on a Proustian note of rice ball-induced nostalgia over lo-fi keys.

If the range of CHAI's capabilities was ever in doubt, this album is the answer, offering unexpected turns and new ideas, incorporating them into their kaleidoscopic swirl of noise with aplomb.

Listen to: Maybe Chocolate Chips, Nobody Knows We Are Fun