Songs of Defiance

If you’ve heard of Defiance, it’s probably as a computer game and television show that intertwine. Events in the show influence the landscape of the game, and characters from the game, including the occasional player, appear in the show.

There’s plenty of talk about that elsewhere. I want to talk about the music, man.

Not the members of Arcade Fire, but you could be forgiven for thinking so.

Not the members of Arcade Fire, but you could be forgiven for thinking so.

Like Battlestar Galactica before it on the SyFy Channel, Defiance is scored by Bear McCreary, but the show also features a good number of late 20th and early 21st century popular songs. Since it takes place in 2046 on an Earth radically altered by alien terraforming technology run amok – after a war with those aliens who now coexist in relative peace with humans – it’s an interesting stylistic choice to say the least.

The first instance of contemporary music surviving to this future comes right at the beginning of the pilot, as the main character, Nolan, and his grown adopted alien daughter, Irisa, sing Johnny and June Carter Cash’s “Jackson” together while it plays on the car radio. Irisa is generally surly and withdrawn, and this moment of her joyfully singing with her father serves to illustrate the bond between the two. I don’t know of many 80-year-old songs played on today’s radio appealing to 40- and 20-year-old demographics, but okay, sure.

A few episodes in, we see a more extreme example of aliens embracing classic Earth music. Alak Tarr, a teenager with naturally white long hair dyed blue in front, runs a radio station operating out of the top of the St. Louis Arch – the only remaining landmark from the city that became Defiance. He plays 1970’s “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image in the opening scene and 1989’s “Lovesong” by The Cure at the end. His media choice both times? Why, vinyl, of course. It’s possible that’s the only technology available in this rustic, post-apocalyptic town; maybe a working record player and collection of LPs was discovered in the rubble of an abandoned house after the war. Or maybe the kid is an emo hipster dude strutting his bold musical taste in an attempt to be cool.

You decide.

You decide.

Plenty of soundtrack songs not heard by the characters appear as cover versions of quite well-known hits. Civil Twilight’s cover of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” plays in its entirety over the end of the second episode, while a contemplative version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” by Eva Cassidy is in the season’s penultimate show. Other songs, including some written to be pop songs from the alien cultures, are performed by a band called Young Beautiful in a Hurry, featuring by astounding coincidence Brendan McCreary, son of Bear.

One last thing: the title of each episode is a song title, sometimes obvious, sometimes rather obscure. At first I only recognized episode 4, “A Well Respected Man” (The Kinks), and episode 6, “Brothers in Arms” (Dire Straits). Episode 3, “The Devil in the Dark,” I immediately recognized as a classic Star Trek episode, but apparently there was a Swedish metal band called Destiny that released an album in 1998 with titles all taken from Star Trek episodes or films. Huh. Good for them.

Thanks to the invaluable site TuneFind for the listing of songs used in Defiance.

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