Captain Ahab: The End of Irony
March 25th, 2010
I collaborated with the band on several tracks: the searing rock anthem The Calm Before the Sword as well as vinyl and digital-only exclusives Under Your Bones and Was Love.
Captain Ahab is comprised of Jonathan Snipes, who does everything but dancing, and Jim Merson… who dances. Snipes and I have actually known each other for years, since we were teenagers and realized that we both loved movie soundtracks. Over the years, he developed his incredible gift for combining electronics and various musical styles into a sophisticated musical persona: Captain Ahab.
Whether or not any of you have ever heard a Captain Ahab album, you’ve definitely heard his sounds and his songs. Snipes has contributed original songs to NBC’s “The Office,” “Snakes on a Plane” and my projects “Eureka,” “Wrong Turn 2,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” “Trauma,” “Caprica” and the final episode of “Battlestar Galactica.” As a sound designer, he has crafted a vast custom-library of sounds for me including metallic thrashing percussion for “Sarah Connor,” helicopter rotors for “Trauma,” and unique electronics for “Dark Void,” “Dark Void Zero” and “Human Target.” Now that I think about it, Snipes’ work has appeared more often in my scores than perhaps any other single musician!
Sometimes he does more than just provide sounds for me to work with. Take, for example, Motorcycle Robot Chase, from “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” I wrote this…
… and gave it to Captain Ahab, asking for a “terminated” version, resulting in this…
I asked Snipes, who is also a film / TV composer, if film music was a big influence on his own music. “I’ve always been attracted to music that accompanies narrative and visuals, but usually outside of the context it was intended,” he told me. “I grew up listening to film music, but often without having seen any of the films. Without that context, film music can feel very schizophrenic, as it’s constantly changing to accommodate a missing visual. This became an aesthetic I responded to and tried to acheive in my own music. My film & TV scores are much more coherent than my pop songs, though, which I guess is sort of ironic (though I’m obviously trying to overcome that idea).”
Jonathan has worked on my projects for years, but I only recently had the chance to return the favor when he asked me to contribute to his new album. He sent me a collection of rough tracks and I was completely blown away by them all. However, I knew the one I could have the biggest impact on was his anthemic Calm Before the Sword. A bizarre hybrid of fantasy power metal, disco and film score, this track had limitless potential.
I crafted, orchestrated and conducted a bombastic orchestral arrangement that sounds like something Ennio Morricone and Michael Kamen would’ve concocted together over a weekend in Vegas.
Most of the album was mixed by my co-producer Steve Kaplan, who knew exactly how to balance the powerful rock elements with the orchestra. The final master sounds so massive, its hard to believe that all these elements and ideas could fit it one song:
As the rest of the album came together, I realized that Calm was just one of many remarkable tracks. The cuts on this album defy category, and simultaneously evoke chills, laughter, glee, adrenaline and near madness. I have to warn you, though: this record is not for the faint of heart. Ahab lures you in with beautiful textures, catchy melodies and clever lyrics then dares you to turn your stereo down with sudden onslaughts of blistering noise and comedically foul language. However, these oddities are not gimmicks, but carefully placed guideposts in the album to prevent a passive listening experience. You can’t simply play this album in the background, because it demands your attention. You have to get involved as a listener. I challenge anyone to listen to this front to back and not have a powerful reaction to it.
“I always try to approach concepts and ideas that I find reprehensible and see if I can find a way of turning them into something I would like,” Snipes told me. “I usually write as a character because I feel like there’s little room for the self in dance music. This time, because I dislike the idea of personal music, I decided that was what I needed to make. ’The End of Irony,’ then, is a super personal, heartfelt record about my own life and opinions.”
The album opens with Acting Hard, one of the most interesting vocal settings I’ve heard in a long time. A relentless vocal sample provides a poly-rhythmic backdrop for a Gregorian-inspired vocal chant, that steadily builds intensity for over 2 minutes, before the rest of the track kicks in:
Death to False Techno is a brilliant song that’s incredibly, almost contagiously, catchy. As if that weren’t enough, the song actually has a twist ending that absolutely blew my mind the first time I heard it. Remember the ending of “Men in Black,” when the camera flies out through the universe? This is the first time a song has made me feel like that. I won’t spoil it for you, because if you’re not ready for it, it comes as quite a shock, but what he does to the dance beat borders on musical genius. And a basic familiarity with 20th century American classical / jazz heightens the experience. (LANGUAGE WARNING FOR THIS CLIP!!):
I Don’t Have a Dick is quite possibly the funniest piece of music written since Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Marc Shaiman penned Uncle Fucker for the “South Park” movie (LANGUAGE WARNING AGAIN!):
Godlike was recently featured in an episode of “Caprica,” Rebirth, playing in the V-Club (almost all of the V-Club compositions are Captain Ahab tunes or remixes):
Speaking of “Caprica,” the iTunes-only version of the album also includes Was Love, the song featured prominently in Gravedancing during the U-87 / Philomon dance sequence:
“The End of Irony” is Captain Ahab’s third full CD, after “The Sex is Next” (still available on CD) and “After the Rain” (only available digitally), which includes their hit “Girls Gone Wild” as featured in NBC’s “The Office.” Also check out their “Snakes on the Brain” EP, featuring their single from “Snakes on a Plane.”
Some of this music may sound like techno, and other parts may sound like hideous noise, but when I listen I hear an intelligent composer / producer at the peak of his game, gleefully tearing down the boundaries of musical genre. I highly recommend giving “The End of Irony” a good listen to find out what you hear in it.