Aside from the snowflakes who called their band ∆, only to informally change it to Alt-J once they figured out the delta symbol doesn’t mix particularly well with the world’s biggest search engine, Charisma.com must have the most un-Googleable band name in recent history. In this age of unified address bars, entering “Charisma.com” will catapult you to a website the band doesn’t even own, and most likely wouldn’t even approve of. Until recently, the URL would refer to a hokey spiritual website, a far cry from the biting bitterness that pervades the electro-pop-rap-whatever duo’s entire repertoire. Up to now, most of that repertoire was featured on last year’s Ai Ai Syndrome, a debut that got tongues wagging for its scathing criticisms of all things vapid. The EP’s cynical lyrics and wonky swagger were quickly embraced by various blogs all over the world, including Noisey, CMU, and even MTV’s questionably-tasted J-Pop spinoff Iggy, yet sadly flew under The Glorio Blog’s radar, as the irresistibly catchy “Hate” would’ve easily made last year’s best of. Luckily, DJ Gonchi and MC Itsuka have returned to set fire to Japan’s smothering politeness for a second time with their spanking new full album, and of course, it wouldn’t be Charisma.com if the thing in question didn’t have a completely unintelligible name.
Founded in 2011 by former junior high school friends and current office ladies DJ Gonchi (the one with the headphones and the crazed grin) and MC Itsuka (the one with the glasses who looks bored all the time), Charisma.com’s music traditionally combines the former’s maximalist house beats with the latter’s deadpan rapping and dry wit. Having vowed to ‘turn their frustrations into songs’, Charisma.com constantly hops back and forth between petulant spite and empowerment, and DIStopping is just as occupied with cynical nitpicking as it is with trying to deal with it. For starters, lead single “Iidurake Blue” teaches boys and girls how to flip the bird as much as whom to flip it on — sadly not displayed in the song’s music video, which you can watch below. The frequent mentions of ‘zombies’ in the song’s rapid-fire lyrics make it fairly obvious what Charisma.com are all about. Corporate drones, suck-ups, slaves to fashion and even people who make the daily commute a chore (“Train Hell”) are common targets of Itsuka’s spite, and while her English may make the Black Lagoon theme sound like Shakespeare’s finest, her flow is enjoyable to listen to even if you don’t understand a word she’s saying.
Listening to rap in a language you don’t understand sounds like complete nonsense, yet in all honestly, Charisma.com’s songs stand out perfectly on their own from a strictly musical perspective. “Mr. Beer” (yeah, seriously) and “Sorairowill” have a distinctly 90’s RnB vibe to them — snapped fingers and louge-y synths included — while in grand EDM tradition, standout cut “Train Hell” explodes in a four-to-the-floor thumper for the massive, Vocaloid-channeling chorus. Surprisingly, however, DIStopping never gets any more aggressively clubby than this. Charisma.com’s music is even more nonchalant than its unflappable frontwoman, though hardly in a bad way. Even on the twisted love song “Chankoi”, released as a promotional single on Valentine’s Day, Itsuka shrugs off her own romantic nervousness to a funky guitar riff and a wobbling bassline straight out of a basement somewhere in the UK. Nevertheless, the musical arrangements on DIStopping are wild and varied, ranging from dancehall thumping (“Jenga Jenga”) to dubstep of the cheesiest variety (“Happy Turn”). If a music genre typically comes out of a computer, chances are likely you’ll find it on this album.
Yet due to its too-cool-for-school attitude, DIStopping hardly ever feels progressive or daring in the slightest. Not only does it lack the big hit Ai Ai Syndrome did have (“Hate”), it almost entirely eschews that EP’s funkier and distinctly old-school house influences in favour of a bigger, often tackier EDM sound. If Ai Ai Syndrome was Daft Punk, as per MTV’s suggestion, DIStopping sounds more like Deadmau5 or worse, rendering certain tracks on the album less than, well, charismatic. Especially the closing tracks, “100% Booby” and “Happy Turn” are carnivalesque bangers which even Itsuka’s poker-faced rapping can’t save from instantly disappearing into complete nothingness, even after repeated listens. DIStopping is a bit of good and a whole lot of average, ultimately saved by the enthusiasm of its performers. Yet it’s hard to deny that untalented cynics would never write a song as disarming as “Hate” or star in a music video as engaging as “Iidurake Blue” — which, in the end, might be all that matters for a group of its ilk. DIStopping would be a better second EP than it is a first album, but neither of that really matters. In J-Pop, it’s all too often the singles that count.
Verdict: Charisma.com remain as likeable as ever, but their debut album has just a bit too little killer, and a bit too much filler.
Standout tracks: “Iinaduke Blue”, “Chankoi”, “Train Hell”