Since making their major label debut in 2005, Chatmonchy has established itself as one of the country’s most popular female rock bands. As a trio, they released several chart-topping discs and sold out gigs at the iconic Nippon Budokan. In 2010, the band played its first American shows with Spin Magazine and MTV Iggy labeling their South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival appearance as a “must see.” In the fall of 2011, drummer Kumiko Takahashi split from the group. The remaining members chose not to replace her and “Henshin” (“Transformation”) is the band’s first album as a duo.
An edgier effort than 2011′s poppy “You More,” “Henshin” features production work from the likes of Asian Kung-Fu Generation guitarist Masafumi Goto and highly regarded Japan-based musician (and former Sonic Youth member) Jim O’Rourke. Although “Henshin” begins on a rocky note — the mellow title track is a bland throwaway number and makes for an insipid opening — the album quickly picks up steam after that. The second song, “Hatena,” sees guitarist Eriko Hashimoto playing harmonica, which adds a fun, rollicking dynamic to the act’s power pop. “Thermae Roman” builds into an excellent guitar-heavy cut alongside impassioned wails from Hashimoto. A stripped down, funky keyboard solo mid-song adds an interesting twist before Hashimoto counts to 10 and Chatmonchy close “Thermae Roman” on a noisy note.
Keyboard is featured more prominently on “Yes or No or Love” and gives the mid-tempo postpunk track a vintage 1970s psychedelic vibe. Dominated by Hashimoto’s fragile singing and a string section, “Aruku Object” sounds pretty and vulnerable. It offers a brief change of pace before the explosive “Kira Kira Hikare,” a fast-paced piece of pop-punk filled with infectious vocal melodies that clearly emerges as the album’s top offering.
“Henshin” is a strong start for the band’s new slimmed-down configuration. Fans seem to agree, as well — “Henshin” reached No. 2 on the Oricon album charts in its first week of release.
Chatmonchy’s 17-date Japan tour starts at Shinjuku Loft in Tokyo on Nov. 9 (7 p.m.; ¥4,200 in advance;  5272-0382) and finishes at Caparvo Hall in Kagoshima on Dec. 23 (6 p.m.; ¥4,200 in advance;  227-0337). For more information, visit www.chatmonchy.com .