The best songs are not always the ones that show off the greatest technical skills with their instruments. By a similar token, the best moments in games are not automatically correlated with how challenging they are. Plastic instrument rhythm games—Rock Band especially—demonstrate the intersection of both points.
My favorite instrument to play in Rock Band—the reason why I was so excited for the game after Guitar Hero had been the norm for years, in fact—is the drums. So my favorite song to play on drums would therefore be something exceptionally special. That’s where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs come in.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I had already known about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before Rock Band, particularly where “Maps” was concerned, most likely on account of its use in one of the earliest AMV Hell entries. (my god, isn’t that a blast from the past)
And I liked it! But I don’t I truly gained a full appreciation for it until playing it at the highest difficulties in the first Rock Band. One of the things that already stood out on first blush about “Maps” was its drum beat, sure, but it wasn’t until having to actually perform it myself that I could fully comprehend the magic.
In terms of the overall DLC-free setlist of the first game, it is a seminal song where the drum charts (talking about the Expert difficulty specifically) are concerned. It’s one of the easier songs in the game, and thus one of the earlier songs to be encountered by extension. The way to approach it, however, has to be fundamentally different from every other song on drums before then.
Every other song before then has a conventional beat, where most of the snares hit on each second and fourth beat, much of the non-snare hand will be handling the hi hats, and the kick drums are merely an occasional occurrence. As a result, the way to tackle them all ends up being fairly similar, even when coming across bigger pains in the ass than the norm like “Wave of Mutilation”.
“Maps” throws most of that out the window. The snares don’t hit where they usually would. The drummer’s hands—both of them at that, whenever the other hand isn’t snaring—are tapping out a skittish pattern on the tom toms. And the kick drum foot is constantly, frequently active, to the tune of every eighth note, i.e. eight kick drum foot stomps per measure.
If you’re not used to using the foot that much, you could be in for a rude awakening. The greater hurdle, however, is that with all those orange lines coming down combined with the eccentric switch-up of blue, red, then yellow notes, someone who isn’t used to such sheer density of visual information will likely find themselves overwhelmed. For an “easy” song, this is pretty some pretty daunting stuff.
Part of the challenge of “Maps” on drums is the very act of getting used to it. In order for me to get good at it, I had to deconstruct its segments, note lane by note lane, on a granular level that most other songs don’t really demand. “OK, I have to ignore those orange lines and just know to keep that kick drum going every eighth note. Ahh, so that’s what the pattern on the blue notes is. This is what my left hand needs to do when the red and yellow notes come up.”
I eventually did get good. It’s important to note, however, that the very act of playing this song on drums since then always involves a level of advance premeditation, on a litany of tenets including the ones above, that I don’t usually have to do for most songs.
It’s also important to note that such a fact is likely a big reason why it’s so thoroughly satisfying whenever I end up nailing it. Like, I am legitimately proud of my drumming performances for it. This is one of the few times where conquering a song involved needing to actually rehearse it rather than putting it through the usual brute-force sight-reading—closer to what real drumming is like, I imagine—so experiencing those efforts come to fruition is a major part of the fun.
Plus, it’s in the service of a great song. Its significance might only be best realized when looking at its place as one of the most delicate and vulnerable songs surrounded by a whole lot of Fever To Tell’s usual snarl and attitude. Karen O, with her voice cracking at points not because her singing is intensely harsh but because it’s more subdued than usual, gives off the impression that she isn’t used to baring it all like this. It’s an especially endearing touch on a classic alt-rock anthem.
RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime.