My first experience with The Chapman Family dates back to SXSW 2010. While opening for We Are Scientists at some random show, lead singer Kingsley Chapman wrapped the microphone cord around his neck while emitting visceral screams as the band smashed and tore into their respective instruments. Suffice it to say, it was an amazing show. Now, a year later, the band are readying their debut album, Burn Your Town. Much like the performance that has forever etched the band into my brain, this LP has a whole lot of showmanship and theatricality, but under the surface it’s a refreshing take on the post-punk movement.
From day one, the band have insisted that they are, for all intents and purposes, merely a pop band. The band have clearly forged a sound that takes the very core of pop music–simple, relatable yarns of heartache–and skillfully combines it with various post-punk standards. With “Anxiety”, the band have created the kind of gargantuan sound of rumbling bass and guitar that’s typical of the genre, heaped that together with some detached vocals that are haunting in their uncertain emotional aim, and added a small respite of human connection with a stirring chorus. Seemingly, the track has almost no pop sheen or magic to it, but their minimalist style and sense of humor (best found in the line “And I won’t die for you/it’s unnecessary”) make it something entirely more approachable than a lot of their counterparts.
That concept continues on “A Million Dollars”. Again, that feeling of alienation is present, but now it takes a more sinister lean as the narrator of the track finds increasing self-worth in the abuse of another. The light airiness of the chorus, which rides brilliantly on the drum-heavy groove, makes it ultra-catchy, yet the darker motif complicates the experience. That, it seems, is the band’s expertise: creating rocking pop numbers that make the listener unaware of their intention until they dig deeper to find a darker purpose.
While these tracks (along with the equally poignant “Sound of the Radio”) are some of the more interesting cuts on the record due to their dual nature, the band are also capable of switching things up a bit and going harder toward a more even-keeled post-punk sound. Even then, though, the sound is still decidedly less jagged or absurd. “All Fall” is perhaps as close to straight punk as they can get, with the fuzzy guitar and bass zigzagging along, distorted and tweaked to only the most basic, all once again coming to a head with another anthem-like chorus. It’s cutting and efficient in its bare-bones approach and yet still bubbles with some grandiosity. The most direct link back to post-punk, however, is “Kids”. Loads of noise and feedback and screaming vocals crash in waves, leaving very little room for space; but when it does come in moments when the song almost grinds to a halt, it’s ripe with plenty of opportunity and eagerness for the next big explosion.
If you wanted to get right to the broken heart of this whole effort, you may as well just listen to the 12-minute epic “Virgins”. The track exists like a sampler platter: a little bit of punishing noise, a catchy hook throughout, a dash of humor in the minutes of silence, and the ending yarn of Smiths-ian poetry. It’s menacing in its scope and yet all too simple to be anything more than simple pop. Regardless, the band have shown that with their first album, there’s no way they could ever choke.