Beyond the poundy drums

BSG_S2I’m a fan of the new, “re-imagined” Battlestar Galactica on the Sci Fi channel. (Shamefaced confession: I am also a fan of the original schlocky BSG from 1978 — in fact I was one of those loudly decrying the new one as yet another unholy exploitation of the greats of my childhood. Oopsie.) I like the action, I like the characters, I like the surprising emotional depth. But one of the things that really makes the show for me is the soundtrack, arranged by Bear McCreary.

I have had the Season One soundtrack for as long as it’s been out. It’s been the background to many a long grading session, possibly not to the benefit of my students. 🙂 Now they’ve released the Season Two soundtrack, and I’ve listened to it something like ten times in two days. It’s even more amazing than the first, which I had thought was pretty frakking amazing.

Firstly, this is a rare soundtrack in that the music works as music. It’s not just an audio reminder of the episodes and it doesn’t just evoke nostalgia. Although the styles range widely over the musical landscape (and I have neither the inclination nor the training to give any sort of overview), there are few jarring transitions here. I find myself having to look online for which episode contributed each track, which is a very good thing — it means the music didn’t get in the way of the episode and now, the episode doesn’t tie down the music.

The CD begins with “Colonial Anthem”, the alleged national anthem for the people of the ragtag fugitive fleet. Anyone who’s watched the original show will immediately recognize its main theme. I thought this was a clever, almost inspired homage to the original show while slyly saying, “Look at what it was — see what it’s become.” The actual arrangement of the piece is superb and indeed superior to the bombastic rendition from the original show. Also, Mr. McCreary very smartly weaves in the Celtic pipes that have been one of the signature parts of the new sound.

“A Promise to Return” (track 4) is a very moving orchestral string piece. It’s drawn from the episode “The Farm”, which struck me as one of the weaker episodes capping the absolute weakest arc of the show so far. Yet this theme is heartbreaking, melancholy and uplifting at the same time. If only because the episode inspired Mr. McCreary to write this piece, it is worth having in the canon. Heck, I’ll even forgive them adding the whole character of Anders, if it can lead to this kind of beauty. 🙂

“Allegro” follows in the footsteps of the two tracks from Season One that I loved most dearly (“Passacaglia” and “The Shape of Things to Come”). (“Passacaglia” inspired me to get into the organ works of J.S. Bach.) “Allegro” is a nice mix between the other two. It has echoes, just echoes, of “The Shape of Things to Come”, and at just the right moments.

“Martial Law” is ominous but too short. It’s pretty clearly the incidental music to a TV show. I like the foreboding of it, though. It evokes, at least in me, an echo of Christopher Franke’s work on Babylon 5, especially “Chrysalis”. In the end, “Prelude to War” covers the same ground in a better way.

“Pegasus” is much-derided on the Net by some fans for its introduction of power guitar into the BSG soundscape. I’ll admit that, when it played under the arrival of the Battlestar Pegasus, I was underwhelmed. But here, in isolation, it comes off quite well. I think that people were expecting majestic uplift with the discovery of a second battlestar and 1700 more humans (boosting the total population by something like 3.5%, remember). Maybe nothing would have answered those expectations. But in the restrained guitar work, you can hear the muted upwelling of hope for what is essentially the first time since the destruction of the colonies.

Track #17 (“Prelude to War”) is probably the best summation of the musical style of the new Battlestar Galactica. It has the signature poundy drums 🙂 as well as stirring strings and even some flutes. It also has more internal structure than most of Mr. McCreary’s pieces on this disc. There’s a story going on underneath the music, which is a touch I like.

“Reuniting the Fleet” (#18) resurrects the rousing Celtic motiffs of “Wander My Friends” and “A Good Lighter” from the Season One CD. The Celtic pipe and the longing flute have become something of an anthem for Galactica, and Mr. McCreary uses them to great effect here.

Track #23, “Black Market”, evokes the music of The Matrix. I don’t suspect that’s what was intended, but hey, it’s what I hear. 🙂

But for me, the killer track is #10, “Something Dark is Coming”. Maybe it’s because I first listened to it while watching a spectacular thunderstorm lighting show. But it carries such heaviness and foreboding. It’s the aural equivalent of watching a storm roll in off the ocean. You can hear the lights going out. At nearly nine minutes in length, it’s relentless and uncompromising.

Final word: If you like the show, you’ll probably like the disc. If you’ve never watched the show, what are you waiting for? And, you might still like the disc. 🙂 It’s worth checking out.

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