"His voice betrayed a craving for terrible things." -- Don DeLillo

Send all adoration/vitriol to marc@shadowbloom.com

August 6, 2010

Ten Great Songs on the Rock Band Network

Beyond the groundbreaking multi-instrument gameplay, the most significant contributor to Rock Band's considerable success is the staggering volume of additional songs available for purchase. Since the first Rock Band was released in November 2007, the amount of downloadable content churned out on a weekly basis has put the competition to shame. As if that weren't enough, in March, Harmonix launched the Rock Band Network. At last, artists and labels were free to create and publish their own playable tracks, giving a home to indie musicians and genres never before represented. On occasion, a single day's RBN output will even surpass a whole week's worth of Harmonix-produced releases! However, the biggest problem now is knowing which songs are worth buying. While there are some well-known artists, the vast majority of songs available will likely be completely foreign to most players. Thankfully, song previews and playable demos are there for every song (and YouTube is a huge help as well), but it's still a daunting task to sort through the haystack. But, hey, that's where I come in! Below are ten great songs covering a wide spectrum of the Rock Band Network (YouTube links and instrument difficulties also included). If anyone has their own recommendations, send 'em off to marc@shadowbloom.com. Enjoy!

Quartered, "Africa"
Drummers, want a bad-ass tribal drum solo? Singers, want to chant and make weird noises? Welcome to the first minute of "Africa." After that, it swings into prog-rock/vaguely-Tool-ish territory and there's nothing wrong with that either. "Left with the drum / To beat at my own wake"
(Guitar: 5)  (Bass: 5)  (Vocals: 3)  (Drums: 6)

The Word Alive, "Battle Royale"
Driving metal with a vocal line that mixes screaming and emo-belting. Warning: don't mess around with that guitar solo, people. Seriously. Be prepared. "They will turn their backs on me / unless I decide to breathe"
(Guitar: 6 / Bass: 6 / Drums: 6)  (Vocals: 4)

Rodrigo y Gabriela, "Buster Voodoo"
I'm not sure why I haven't listened to a lot more Rodrigo y Gabriela before, but I'm going to fix that. "Buster Voodoo" only has two guitars parts (lead and rhythm), but they're barnburners. I miss the rhythm guitar lines of Guitar Hero II ("Jessica," anyone?), so this track scratched that itch. Now I want more.
(Guitar: 6 / Bass: 6)  (Bonus link: a brilliant live performance)

Bang on a Can All-Stars / David Lang, "Cheating, Lying, Stealing"
This is what the Rock Band Network is about. A tense, unsettled piece of contemporary classical music, it stretches the boundaries of what we expect to find in rhythm action gaming. Take a listen.
(Guitar: 4)  (Bass: 4)  (Drums: 3)

Kiev, "Crooked Strings"
Alt-rock tinged with sax and piano, this gives a solid challenge on every instrument without making you want to throw things across the room. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this gets re-released with keyboard added once Rock Band 3 lands. Right now, the awesome solo is mapped to guitar, but I'm dying to hit the keys. "Every time I notice you / You turn out lights"
(Guitar: 5 / Bass: 4 / Vocals: 4 / Drums: 5)

The Slip, "Even Rats"
As I tweeted back in March, this is a big warm hug of Guitar Hero 1 nostalgia. Sure enough, I gold starred it on Expert guitar in my first try. That drum line, though? Ouch. "I hear the words but the meaning gets lost"
(Guitar: 2 / Bass: 3 / Vocals: 4 / Drums: 5)

Sidebar: while I'm at it, I have a few more requests for old GH1 bonus tracks:
Count Zero, "Sail Your Ship By"
Artillery, "The Breaking Wheel"
Made in Mexico, "Farewell Myth"

Pretty & Nice, "Piranha"
Hat tip to the RBNPreview YouTube channel. Was browsing through the videos there, picked this one out randomly, and got hooked immediately on the jangly guitar line and androgynous vocals. "The alligator and the crocodile don't care / That we get groovy on the weekend"
(Guitar: 2 / Bass: 2 / Vocals: 3 / Drums: 1)

Seether, "Remedy"
This is cheating a little since Seether is definitely one of the more well-established bands on the Rock Band Network, but a good song's a good song. A few other Seether tracks have been added as well, but I'm still holding out for "Because of Me" and "Truth." "I see my heart explode / It's been eroded / By the weather here"
(Guitar: 2 / Bass: 1 / Drums: 3)  (Vocals: 2)

Pretty & Nice, "Tora Tora Tora"
Yeah, I'm including two Pretty & Nice songs on this list, but after wearing out "Piranha," I had to grab this one as well. With the caveat that I don't sing very often in Rock Band, this is one of my favorite vocal lines in the game. So much fun. Note to artists/record labels: after playing these two P&N songs over and over again, I just had to go out and buy the whole album. In other words, put your songs in this game, the business model is working. "The boys are shipping bombs across the sea / And that's ok by me / As long as I don't see"
(Guitar: 3 / Bass: 3 / Vocals: 3 / Drums: 4)

Cory Wong, "Upstream"
A soothing, guitar-only track. I'll say it again, this is the type of song the Rock Band Network was made for.
(Guitar: 5)

There you go! I'll revisit this list later on as I discover more hidden gems. If you want to go digging on your own, make sure to head to the RBNPreview YouTube channel as well as the excellent rockbandaide.com. Happy hunting!

Finally, I'm going to end this entry by begging and pleading yet another time: please, please, SOMEONE bring Matthew Good and Dillinger Escape Plan to the RBN. I need this. Do me a solid and make it happen, music engineers. Thanks in advance.