Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Music Of Defiance

I've always enjoyed the music of composer Bear McCreary. His work on the soundtracks for both the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) and The Walking Dead (2010-present) was impressive and suited the mood and often dark atmosphere of both those series appropriately lending real character too. The scores for Battlestar Galactica are immersive, gorgeous and propulsive in their addiction. His work on Defiance mirrors the excellence of his Battlestar Galactica work and builds on new sonic themes.

McCreary's work in the science fiction genre has wholly usurped my attention. His approach to the series Defiance (2013-present) has delivered some of those stunningly atmospheric compositions combined with a real pop accessibility and sensibility. He took some of the approach he applied to his interpretation of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower for Battlestar Galactica Season Three (Crossroads) and takes it to new pop heights and to a new level for Defiance.

The music recorded for Defiance offers a unique approach to science fiction television. It's a rare thing to see music presented in this way. The music, while entirely connected to the show (like the video game) still works on its own terms. His score combines thrilling or heavenly instrumentals with a selection of pop classics, like Elvis Costello's Man Out Of Time (1982), or McCreary's own pop reinterpretations. Utilizing a host of guest vocalists like Raya Yarbrough McCreary is able to deliver his own take on vintage numbers like Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time (1983).

The music established for Defiance is indeed another layer added to the show's character and lends the series real personality to an already colorful world. While the music accentuates the drama or the action, it also maintains a quality that can be enjoyed entirely removed from the series.

Generally fans of television or film scores will embrace instrumental music on its own terms anyway, but, here, the soundtrack for Defiance is even more accessible than most, but no less complicated or original.

There are two soundtracks available for each season of the series, both first and second. A third score exists for the accompanying video game and a Deluxe Edition includes the game score combined with Season One. Fans of Defiance will pray for future soundtrack releases, because as much as Defiance fans pray for a fourth season renewal of the series, they know the complimentary soundtrack releases make for an equally big treat.

Season One is a melding of electronics and classical instrumentation alternating throughout with a selection of pop renditions, alien interpretations of the originals, collaborating with a number of artists like Raya Yarbrough (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica). The new spins on the pop classics are a real delight too.

McCreary commented on his approach for the series on his website noting, "heavy synths and ethnic soloists played a key role in defining the sound of Defiance, but the cinematic quality came from working with a string orchestra. ... I was asked to help bring the alien cultures to life by developing a distinct musical heritage for each. I fashioned Votan instrumentation and lyrics into a variety of popular songs and ceremonial pieces. I wrote pieces for street musicians that float through open-air marketplaces. I produced alien classical music, jingles, jazz, rock-anthems and torch songs." It's all here and the music works as both an immersive experience into this new alien Earth or as a vehicle for delivering great music for, well, your vehicle.

As McCreary himself noted on his blog, there is a "daunting" amount of music scored here. "I constantly juggled a dozen or so character themes and followed intricately crafted story arcs."

There are some real highlights like McCreary's heroic Nolan theme that is epically cinematic and threads the series.

The Main Title theme for Defiance is succinct yet powerful and never tires the ear. It's another composition triumph and one of McCreary's best to date. It is often applied to propel the relationship dynamic of the protagonists in the series, Earth human Joshua Nolan and Irathient daughter Irisa. The edit can be found on the TV series soundtrack while the full version is on the video game soundtrack. The combined Deluxe Edition will give you both or you can head straight to iTunes.

McCreary develops the original alien sounds of the Castithans and the themes (Castithan Bath) that connect with characters Datak Tarr and Stahma Tarr channeling the inspiration of Nino Rota's score to The Godfather (1972). The ethnic sounds that complement these characters are the most alien in the show, but beautiful.

The synthetic laced bombast of the Battle Of The Volge is a "dub-step" (as my son The Boy Wonder likens it) infused eight minute, thirty-three second epic march to war. According to McCreary he requires "at least one gargantuan battle cue on every record." This Defiance classic rests comfortably next to Assault On The Colony (Battlestar Galactica Season Four) and Storming New Caprica (Battlestar Galactica Season Three) and it is a thrill ride. It's definitely a personal favorite on the Season One soundtrack along with the entirely bizarre but entrancing Concerto For Insects.

Renditions of Five Stairsteps' Ooh Child (S1, Ep3, The Devil In The Dark) and Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time (S1, Ep11, Past Is Prologue) by Raya Yarbrough are particularly gentle and sensitive for a series that truly runs the gamut of emotional highs and lows.

There are pop songs interspersed with McCreary's score throughout the series to further underscore this is a future world that has not forgotten its past either despite the changes.

Songs Of Defiance Season Two continues this remarkable blending of pop music originals while also adding interpretations of Doll Parts (Hole; 1994) (S2, Ep11, Doll Parts) and What's Up? (4 Non Blondes; 1993) (S2, Ep9, Painted From Memory) by Fyfe Monroe. To further illustrate the originality of the compositions, Trace Adkins recorded an original that includes lyrics that directly promote the reality of Defiance through the cultures of the various races. The song is exceptional and is called Across The Storm Divide (Season Two, Episode 1, The Opposite Of Hallelujah).

It is truly the sheer originality of this spicy and eclectic mix of songs and music that make these two scores such a sensation to the ear.

As McCreary declared, these soundtracks were not pessimistic "music-inspired cash-grabs." He passionately produced each and every composition to "tell us something specific about the Votan / Human culture in Defiance." The selections speak directly to the bible of cultures created for this powerful series. Continue to experience the world of Defiance aurally with these outstanding works from Bear McCreary. Defiance rivals his exceptional involvement on Battlestar Galactica and that's really saying something.


scott wait said...

I think the music for this show is amazing. When I first heard the opening theme I was hooked! Praying they renew this great show.

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I think of Caprica and its theme and it was okay, also by McReary but Defiance, as you say, is just spectacular. The theme is played in my car endlessly amidst a number of pop songs through the ipod.

And yes, the music in general for Defiance as a series is truly awesome. Sons Of Anarchy did a lot of great original music, but as science fiction goes Defiance is among my favorites alongside the score and song selections chosen for Stargate universe.

Thanks for writing Scott.