Crusade – music by Evan H. Chen

Crusade - music by Evan H. ChenI already liked the music, and the musical style, of Crusade before the CD arrived. But as with most good film and TV soundtracks, hearing the music away from the clutter of dialogue and sound effects revealed hidden depths that are hard to explore even with the best of TV speakers. The music of Crusade has numerous fascinating and challenging layers that quickly distinguish it from the body of music established for Babylon 5.

One thing that surprised me was the variety of vocal effects incorporated into the music. To be fair, Chris Franke’s B5 music utilized vocal effects, including two or three straightforward rock/blues songs, and much more frequently a very good sample of operatic female vocals. But Evan Chen’s vocal effects range from chanting (on the “Shanghai Tan” track, one of my favorites) to baby talk and Art of Noise-esque processed vocal samples (“My Way”), to something that almost sounds like doo-wop backing vocals, along with more vocal percussion effects (“Rainbow”). Whether in instrumental music or popular music, vocals are one area where many artists forget to experiment. Soundtracks particularly fall victim to this – they either have no vocals, or they become banal “songtracks” mined from the current Top 40. I was pleasantly surprised whenever I heard human voices, or even inventive uses of sampled human voices.

If I could single out any one element of Chen’s music that is responsible for getting me hooked on his sound very early on, it’s the percussion. Put simply, the music from Crusade rocks. In places, it begs for extended mixes. Now, it’s not all percussion all the time, but when a beat does kick in, it kicks the door down. But when a solid rhythm appears, it has a reason to do so – it’s not like some UPN sitcom with a burst of generic hip-hop for scene transitions. Some of the better cues on the Crusade CD feature an almost industrial groove which impresses me more than a lot of what’s on the radio these days. I wouldn’t hesitate to add “Shanghai Tan” or “Mars Dome” to a party mix tape – and I have no doubt that someone would probably ask “Who played that?”

To be fair, it’s not all dance beats. There are synth-orchestral passages which rival the grandeur achieved on Crusade’s TV predecessor (including Alwyn’s Story and Battlestation). If there’s a problem with the Crusade CD, it is that – barring the release of Chen’s music from A Call To Arms (and I sincerely hope Sonic Images still has that title in the works!) – there will be no more music released from this series unless someone rescues the show itself.

Lest I forget, the wistfully hopeful main title theme and end credits are worth repeat listening as well. There’s more going on in the main title sequence than Gary Cole and Peter Woodward exchanging cryptic questions and answers.

And to give a rare pat on the back to the label, I was enormously pleased to see the Crusade CD given some very colorful packaging, a far cry from the almost generic presentation that the Babylon 5 CDs have fallen into (though I’m sure that’s likely a side effect of the fact that the B5 soundtracks seem to be released by the half-dozen anymore).

My advice for Hollywood, or perhaps for Sonic Images’ A&R department, whichever comes first, is to pick Evan Chen up and give him carte blanche. It doesn’t have to be a science fiction project – in fact, probably better if it isn’t SF, so as not to stereotype Chen or his sound into a particular genre.

4 out of 4
The resulting music would probably be eclectic, and yes, like Crusade, it might challenge some common soundtrack conventions and sensibilities. But that makes it all the more interesting and involving to hear. My first reaction to A Call To Arms, the B5 movie which secured the Crusade gig for Evan Chen, was “I have no idea what I’m hearing…but I like it.” I think fans of Crusade, or even skeptics who balked at the thought that Chris Franke wouldn’t be scoring the new series, may have the same reaction. I can only do so much analyzing of the music – you really have to hear it for yourself.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (1:30)
  2. Hyperspace (5:45)
  3. Future Pleasure (2:46)
  4. Elizabeth (3:39)
  5. Galen’s Wrath (4:42)
  6. Sorrow (6:57)
  7. Shanghai Tan (2:58)
  8. Patterns of Soul (6:41)
  9. Alwyn’s Story (6:13)
  10. Mars Dome (5:03)
  11. Battlestation (3:15)
  12. Rainbow (2:22)
  13. Visitors (6:24)
  14. Invasion (5:37)
  15. My Way (2:09)
  16. End Credits (0:36)

Released by: Sonic Images
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 68:14