Album Review: Charisma.com – DIStopping

Though they’ve been around since 2011, it wasn’t until last year that the electro-rap unit Charisma.com came to the attention of listeners around the world, their first mini-album Aye-Aye Syndrome propelling them straight to popularity. Now, before you type that …
By Sean Mulrine

Though they’ve been around since 2011, it wasn’t until last year that the electro-rap unit Charisma.com came to the attention of listeners around the world, their first mini-album Aye-Aye Syndrome propelling them straight to popularity. Now, before you type that into your internet browser and potentially risk encountering a nasty virus, it’s worth noting that Charisma.com do not actually own that domain name, instead naming their group in the erroneous belief that “.com” was a shortened form of the word “company”. The duo is made up of two office-working women: rapper, lyricist and composer Itsuka, who also has a solo career under the name Meliyas♀; and DJ and singer Gonchi. Describing their mission as “turning your frustrations into songs”, previous numbers like “OLHERO” and “LIFEFULL” blasted topics such as sexist bullying in the workplace and smartphone addiction. This year, the pair have returned to release their first full-length album, DIStopping.

The disc’s lead track, “Iinazuke Blue” (Fiance Blue), challenges the listener from the get-go, Itsuka’s characteristic, almost mechanical high-speed flow spitting out lines like “Society’s dog who’ll do any trick – that’s not what you were born to be” over thundering kick drums and synths that never seem to stay still for a moment. It’s a perfect addition to the established Charisma canon, with all the elements that form their sound working in harmony, much like the two members themselves on the chorus, playing with the lines between rap and melody. Meanwhile, there are some brand-new sounds which appear in other tracks. “no datte” (no, but) is based around a glitchy pop track where Gonchi’s vocals take the lead. “Sora-Iro will” (Sky Blue Will) is another distinctive number which is centered around a fantastic piano part which gives off something like a Hisaishi Joe vibe. Just on the right side of woozy, this and the organic-sounding “Mr. BEER” provide a welcome moment of peace in an an album that’s otherwise packed to the gills with electric aggression.

The music video for “Iinazuke Blue”, guest-starring former backup dancers to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the TEMPURA KIDZ.

LOOKER” is one of the album’s best moments, with an abrasive and distorted bassline combined with giddy rising-and-falling sounds creating an almost tangible sensation for the listener. Itsuka’s rap is vicious and constant, effortlessly conveying a convincing anger and yet rarely rising above a controlled Daria-esque monotone. The beat here is enormous, but she’s in control and doesn’t allow it to overpower her. It’s difficult to convey in translation her various lyrical witticisms and the delicious bluntness in her rhymes, but even those listening from behind a language barrier can appreciate just to what extent she’s a real technician.

DIStopping, named for a double meaning that… doesn’t translate at all well into English (“Are we ‘stopping’ disses, or are we ‘topping’ them off?”), is really an album of conflicts. The theme it’s based around is the conflict between society and the individual, but while listening to it, it becomes apparent that there’s a secondary conflict in sound. Is this an electro-pop album? Is it straight-up dance music, designed for clubs and DJs? Is it hip-hop? Combining these elements is what makes the distinctive Charisma.com sound that fans fell in love with, but in the context of a full LP, sometimes it feels like the balance veers into some strange directions.

“Chancoi” (One Chance Coin) perhaps shows this confusion at its worst, going from upbeat electric guitar chords, a sing-along vocal riff and cartoonish gunshot samples directly into a warm dub-styled bassline where the rap happens. Itsuka’s voice becomes awkwardly auto-tuned for the bridge, and then there’s a fun pop chorus. “Chancoi” and “Happy Turn” were written for public consumption as theme songs for Valentine’s Day-themed events (one is almost tempted to mutter something about “selling out”, and I know I’d have preferred a Valentine’s song where Itsuka waxes lyrical about the commercialisation of human emotions, but whatever) and while it’s undeniably good that the unit is receiving mainstream attention, changing their sound for a different audience is not necessary.

“Chancoi”.

But even on those rare occasions the songs don’t quite satisfy, there’s no denying that they still sound great. The production on DIStopping is of a really high standard, everything sounding clean and crystal-clear, everything mixed in just the right way. It’s sleek and shiny, but it also doesn’t fall into the ever-present trap of becoming too gaudy.

The number of more melodic pop-oriented tracks on this album won’t sit well with every listener, but it is to some extent a positive change. On Aye-Aye Syndrome, it felt a lot like Itsuka was taking up the spotlight, but when Gonchi gets a chance to sing she does it extremely well, this time becoming the highlight of numbers like “Mr. BEER”, “sodai Gomi no Koi” (A Bulky Garbage Kind of Love) and “no datte”. DIStopping restores their balance as a duo and shows the importance in making the project stand out from Itsuka’s solo work.

With DIStopping, Charisma.com leave no stone unturned in their attack on society and ego, blasting everything from human nature as it appears on crowded trains (“Train HELL”) to the hypocrisy of non-conformism as a trend (“100% Booby”). It’s a high-voltage tirade that will leave listeners thinking about themselves and their world, all while enjoying a fresh and infectious sound.

DIStopping was released on the 4th of June through Lastrum Music Entertainment Inc.