Chapman & Brocker’s Seamless Integration of Film & Music
For most musicians, scoring films is considered a fascinating task to undertake once success is achieved as a songwriter with individualistic aspirations. There are many prominent musicians who specialize almost solely in scoring films (John Williams, Danny Elfman, etc.), but several of these highly regarded figures had past occupations before breaking out in a big way. Some were jazz pianists for clubs in NYC (Williams), others were street musicians (Elfman), and a few made their living as music teachers (James Horner). Regardless of the type of work, experience was incalculably vital in contributing to their placement as a few of the most influential film composers of our modern era. That being said, it is a rare feat when an artist begins their career as a film scorer and then later becomes a songwriter with an emphasis on both pop music and film composition. It is chronologically unconventional, though it is understandable that different songwriters achieve their own form of success through personalized methods of their choosing. The duo of Chapman & Brocker could have likely made a living for a substantial length of time as collaborating songwriters for film soundtracks. Yet, due to an artistic passion that is wholly represented in their audible output, their decision to explore the world of writing pop music has turned out to be a wise one.
I suppose that featuring Chapman & Brocker the day after the Oscars is appropriate, even if the only relevancy to film on their debut album, Dance of the Crazy Man, is the influence it has had on the talented Los Angeles-based duo. Still, not many contemporary pop artists would name Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, and John Barry as a few of their most notable influences. It is their appreciation for good film – on both an audible and visual mode of perception – that makes their music fascinating. Upon seeing their name, I was led to believe that Chapman and Brocker were the last names of each respected individual. Instead, each are represented first names and the duo are actually brothers. Brocker Way is the eldest of the two, a 24-year-old studying music and philosophy at California State in Northridge. Chapman Way, 21, is studying cinematography a few miles away at UCLA (in addition to privately studying audio production). Their majors are , with entities of both film and musical composition being highly prevalent in their works. As for the philosophical part, their lyrical content embodies utmost intelligence, delivering a variety of metaphorical images and symbolic content from fictionalized characters to “create stories that could be experienced rather than merely understood”.
Chapman & Brocker got their start in the music industry by scoring (fellow relative) Rick Way’s film, Best Hours of the Day, in 2004. It was a low-budget documentary that explored surfing, with one feature of the accompanying music being that it impressively represented the demanding emotions that the sport requires. After getting praise from the Los Angeles Times, a few other publications, and a plethora of friends, the brothers decided that it would be worthwhile to pursue something with a focus of their own. Dance of the Crazy Man was released three years later in December of 2007, featuring 11 songs that they wrote, recorded, produced, and released themselves. The result is a style that remains very much rooted in pop music, yet their admirable influences derived from film has turned Chapman & Brocker’s output into something that will be considered avant-garde. The instrumentation is admirably intricate, with the structural tendencies of the songs being unpredictable and wholesomely engaging. Even with though it is unconventional pop at its best, listeners will not have a difficult time comprehending the hooks that the duo is able to produce. The most impressive aspect of Dance of the Crazy Man is Chapman and Brocker’s ability to create songs that are simultaneously unconventional and grippingly accessible; not a single track nears a state of mundaneness or predictability even once.
For a suitable representation of the sound explored on Dance of the Crazy Man, “The Hearth” is an outstanding effort that is arguably the most accessible on the album. Though a variety of instruments are explored in detail on the album, keys are often the domineering factor on “The Hearth” and the majority of other tracks throughout the release. The result is hauntingly personal, with the duo’s collaborating vocals being reminiscent of a soothing version of heartache. Over the intricate progressions of twinkling keys and guitars, Kristin Cornelius adds some fantastic backing vocals to “The Hearth”. The brothers’ vocals are generally indistinguishable from one another, but that serves as an enjoyable factor, as their collaborative harmonics give off an impressive feel that is somewhat reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel in their prime. Regardless of which way you look at it, “The Hearth” is an absolute gem that shows Chapman & Brocker at their best. Though it does enough justice alone as a bouncily infectious pop song, “Crazy Man” serves as a clever sociological analysis of those who enter their own fantasy world in order to escape the grim perils of reality. “Bottle in hand, I’ll wait for the sun, and here it comes,” they sing over alternating acoustics, echoing keys, and a jumpy rhythm section. “Happy, crazy man, drinkin’ for the whole world for all the world is alone, until a star says hello.” If you want to get a good listen of the duo’s ability to harmonize, check out 01:15 and onwards. Comparisons to The Beach Boys may be relevant on that aspect alone, and Chapman & Brocker’s ability to produce a fantastic pop song is comparable.
With all the strings, guitars, keys, and other forms of orchestration explored on Dance of the Crazy Man, it makes subtly enriching tracks like “Chimes” even more impressive. Though heavily reverbed instruments like piano, strings, and percussion make their presence known, the melodic capacity is fruitful due to the ambitious instrumental and lyrical scope that the Way brothers convey. The lyrical delivery reminds me of Nick Cave in a sense, portraying melancholy in story-led form through vivid imagery and metaphorical brilliance. “Here tell, my brothers, you won’t believe what I dreamt,” they sing. “Off the beach came a shape, dancing in the sand. Then she appeared as if born from a breeze.” The occasional involvement of wind chimes makes their film influences even more prevalent, with the ability to blend themes of vividness being impressive as well. “And she sings out loud, ‘Sailor, it’s not far now. Tell the others, then sail to the other side,’” they conclude, providing a momentous sense of wit and ardent romanticism. With these tracks providing ample indication, Dance of the Crazy Man is a stunning effort that should propel these talented brothers into a state of respectability. My only regret is not discovering Dance of the Crazy Man in time for inclusion on my Best Albums of 2007 list. If it continues to impress me like it has in these past few days, it would have landed in the top 30 quite easily.
- Los Angeles