First of all, I wish my first name were a cool animal. Bear McCreary has that on me, so it seems unfair that he's also a geek icon for his work on several beloved TV series (Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, The Walking Dead). And now the guy is composing the soundtrack of one of this spring's hottest MMOs? Where did I go wrong with my life?
Before I go and change my name to Sugar Glider Olivetti, I guess it's only fair that I put a lid on my hurt ego to give Defiance's score a fair listen. McCreary was tapped to create the music for both the MMO and the TV series, giving the crossover project a unified sound.
"I had to make sure that players could hang out in one area for long stretches of time without getting bored by repetitive music," McCreary wrote on his blog. "As a result, melody plays less of a role throughout many of these cues. The real stars of this music are the texture and colors."
Music has texture and colors? If Bear says it, then it must be. Let's dive in!
1. Theme from Defiance
I believe that Defiance shares the same theme between the game and the show, which is totally fine with me because this is one of the coolest themes I've ever heard. McCreary said that he allowed himself to rip out the synth for this project and really go to town, and as a result this track (and many of the rest on the album) is a hyper-kinetic mix of synth, dubstep, sound effects, and even a smattering of orchestra.
The theme starts quiet-like with a little warbling in the background and a solemn violin, but it doesn't take long before the tubthumping begins. By 1:28 all hell breaks loose as it sounds as if the music is competing with a futuristic car revving up. There's a lot of energy here, to be sure, but also a balance between despair and hope that comes out in the quieter moments.
Strip out the synth from this track and you might be left with a Western-sounding hoedown. Apart from the main theme, this is definitely my favorite piece from the album. When the electronic guitar stops trying to give me headache for a minute, the peppy melody that comes out is downright toe-tapping fun. Another quiet moment gives us an electronic version of the hoedown, whipping us back and forth between saloon music and neo-saloon music.
I should also mention the beat, which sounds very much like hand percussion (clapping, banging, and pretty much anything that Stomp might do). I don't know if it's more appropriate to dance or have a shootout to this tune, but I won't rule out the potential to do both at the same time.
3. Attack at Marin
Here's a straight-up action piece for those who crave this sort of thing. It begins with frantic strings and pounding percussion and pretty much keeps that up the entire time. It's kind of the musical equivalent of a crafty toddler throwing a measured tantrum.
There isn't much of a melody to be had here, just a lot of noise to add tension to an already-tense situation. Even so, if you're a fan of rapid tempos and chase music, this isn't half-bad.
4. Dark Woods
I kind of wasn't kidding about that headache reference earlier. I've had a bit of one all day, and many of these tracks are a little too noisy for my taste. That's why coming across Dark Woods is such a relief. It's a calming piece that seems perfect for reflection or even just a breather before diving back into the fray.
My only complaint is that it's incredibly short, clocking in at less than a minute and a half. I felt as if it could've been extended easily and the theme built up a little more. Oh well -- always keep them wanting more, right?
5. Marin Exploration
Sometimes faster isn't better. Sometimes louder isn't better. Sometimes it pays to have a bit of restraint. I think that's what we're hearing in this track. It's a very measured piece that hangs on well-ordered beats and doesn't allow anything to get too far out of hand.
What we have here is walkin' music, not quite a march, but not parkour either. I find it interesting that even something as humdrum as traversing landscape is met with barely restrained aggression instead of the laid-back melodies found in other MMOs. There's a tenseness to this soundtrack that kept me on edge while I was listening to it.
6. Ridgecrest Mine
OK, my head can take one more hit for the team. What we have here is a failure to communicate. No, wait, what we have here is a straight-up action piece with a penchant for the occasional exotic sound. It reminds me a lot of McCreary's love of percussive action in Battlestar Galactica. Above the beat, however, there's a rising action that keeps the pressure on and a few welcome respites from the discordant strains of the guitar. It's the kind of track where I'd rather sample the parts I like and discard the parts I don't. Smooshed together, they makes an appealing creation, even if I have to eat the good stuff with the Brussels sprouts.
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!