As a concept, “cuteness” holds a ton of appeal – one act titled themselves after the pursuit of cuteness. On a surface level, adorability conveys a nonthreatening, accessible air soothing to those who experience it. However, a cute charm discreetly confirms a sense of daring from those who adopt it. In the same way one should not mistake kindness for weakness, cuteness should not be mistaken for superficiality. On their sophomore album, Chai utilizes endearing qualities, such as higher-pitched voices and bright melodies, to embolden their message of self-care. A good salesperson believes in what they sell, and the members of Chai rapturously believe in the power of loving oneself.

In terms of aesthetic, Punk seemingly goes against everything its name stands for, but its usage of adorableness as protest syncs right up with the punk mentality. To think positively in the face of despair or depression takes much more spunk than many care to realize. Yet the Nagoya four-piece band commits themselves to betterment by song one, “Choose Go!”, where self-improvement serves as the launching point. From there, the album remains steadfastly entrenched in self-confidence, unabashedly celebrating personal accomplishment, family ties, and physical features for the sheer joy they bring.

To keep spirits high, Chai draws from musical styles that prioritize toughness and high-energy. The obvious punk and new wave vibes come to the surface immediately, recalling the repetitive pluck of ESG or the feel-good garage rock of Sublime. But where an act like ESG thrives on restraint, Chai works best in a loud and crowded sound. Chai infuses the bare bones of punk rock, slamming cymbals and exaggerated, repeated vocals, with the upbeat, energetic vibes of neo kawaii, the band’s personal mantra. Whereas their first record, the more frenetic Pink, went about exploring this concept and sound more freely, Punk firmly establishes neo kawaii as the band’s primary means of expression.

This means celebrating all aspects of one’s character with the same enthusiasm you might never consider reserving for yourself. Immediately following “Choose Go!”, “Great Job” pats listeners on the back for taking self-care into your own hands. Lead singer Mana maintains a constant air of lighthearted cheer, comfortable whether or not it hits notes entirely on pitch. Like the album itself, she carries herself with an attitude strong enough to influence opinion if not the world: “I don’t know about the world/mBut I know me,” she sings on “I’m Me,” and that’s just as well for the time being. Midway through the album, “This Is Chai” arrives with a circus-style fanfare. Such a track seems more at home for an opener, but the band saves it for later as if to reinforce their vision.

Following the midway mark, Punk takes the universal self-care cheers of the introductory tracks and sharpens them into more specific tropes and situations. “Fashionista,” like its name suggests, wields personal style like a weapon, with bassist Yuki granting the song a defiant twang. A song for all the curly-haired people with straight-lock aspirations, album highlight “Curly Adventure” calls for embracing the quirky, less-conventional aspects of your style or character. The sentimental “Family Member” marks one of the few moments on the album where strength comes from someone outside your personal being. Even Chai recognizes a journey of self-improvement, while possible by oneself, gets easier knowing you have a support system behind you.

By the time it comes to a close, Punk prepares you to step out into the world with a newfound perspective, not just on yourself but also on an act such as Chai. The key aspect of punk involves wholeheartedly defying that which holds you back – often, that barrier happens to be ourselves. But, “With a little fortune telling/bThere’s no stopping me,” which is a perceptive way to offset bad habits. To be the change you wish to see in the world, recognize that the most difficult shift may involve your way of thinking. Achieve that, and you’re ready for anything.

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