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Rock Band 4 8th Anniversary Pack

TGIF! The super corny acronym rings true today as we’re bringing 3 free tracks your way as a celebration of 8(!!) years of Rock Band 4.  We have so much gratitude for the Rock Band community and are super psyched to offer up free music from some of our favorite up and comers.

Blame It On Whitman “Pack of Smokes,” I Fight Dragons “She’s Got Sorcery,” and Ratboys “Black Earth, WI” is about as disparate a collection of songs as you could find: art-punk/nocore, chiptune, and longform indie jams. Get all three this Friday in the Rock Band Music Store!

Roaring out of the gate with triplet-feel percussive blasts answered by isolated jangly lead guitar lines and/or twinkling harmonics, “Pack of Smokes” packs a formidable punch from the get-go. At around 11 seconds in, Blame It On Whitman abandons the quiet/loud call and response format of the track’s opening salvo in favor of a more straight ahead, full-band approach. The structure established with the intro is maintained for a bit however, before, at the 20-second mark, the drums lean into a consistently upbeat pace, setting the stage for the authoritative first verse, brimming with brothers(and sister)-in-arms harmonies. Caustic tumult dovetails into a slower pace and more laid-back vibe at the 36-second point – and it’s at this juncture that the already impressive vocal harmonies take center stage, as this particular strong-suit of the Boston five-piece is one of many qualities that sets them apart. It’s during this section of the cut that we reach what would have to be considered the chorus, which is both catchy and emotionally impactful. The lyrics throughout are mature, understated articulations that stand on equal footing with some of the best barstool-poetry out there. It’s worth paying attention – these aren’t casually tossed-off, meaningless stanzas that are chosen simply because, “well, this kind of rhymes with that previous line, right?”

But, back to the music! After that first refrain, at 1:44 begins a pleasantly expansive instrumental interlude that is all glittery, glimmering guitar over a soothing, hypnotic rhythm section. Oh, but don’t drift off, listener! At 2:51 Blame It On Whitman stops on a dime, cleverly recalling the track’s opening. Things build in intensity, with more percussive accents, stops-and-starts, and gradually ascending volume and grit until we truly do find ourselves revisiting the song’s intro at 3:18. What follows is a joyfully halcyon romp through by-now familiar melodic figures and rhythmic tricks and hiccups before “Pack Of Smokes” gently fades away after little more than four minutes.

All in all, Blame It On Whitman is impressive on all fronts. There’s technical prowess, to be sure, but it’s delivered in the blissfully unbothered manner that characterizes the very best rock, punk, post-punk, garage, and what-have-you. While we’re here, what *have* we with Blame It On Whitman, anyway? In broad stroke terms, it’s “rock,” no question, but there are elements of emo, math, power-pop, nocore, and even prog here and there, along with much more. In other words, like the very best rock and roll, this quintet isn’t easily pigeonholed because they clearly couldn’t care less if their compositions and performances come into the orbits of myriad lazy categorizations. Brimming with golden, catchy riffs and youthful, raucous energy, “Pack of Smokes” graciously invites you along for the ride – and what a ride it is. Don’t deny yourself the clever, multi-layered joys of this tour de force, RB4ers!

From Chicago-based I Fight Dragons’ 2010 Welcome to the Breakdown EP, “She’s Got Sorcery” is a sunny, immediately enjoyable affair that’s full of bright pop hooks and memorable vocal melodies.

Beginning with a brief digital, sonic swell, frontman Brian Mazzaferri lends his vocals to the picture at three seconds in and, from there, we’re off and running for a breezy earworm of a track that only gets better with repeat listens. A quick two seconds later and the entire quintet dives in, with Packy Lundholm (vocals, guitar) and Bill Prokopow (vocals, keyboard) capably bolstering Mazzaferri’s dulcet tones and bassist Hari Rao and drummer Chad Van Dahm confidently holding down the steady, peppy beat. Structurally, the verses are comprised of a “part 1” which is purely a cappella, followed by “part 2” which features full instrumentation, making for a nice sonic counterpoint. At the 21-second mark, “She’s Got Sorcery” slips into the pre-chorus before an abrupt halt nine seconds later, during which someone calls out old the punk-rock standby transition, “1-2-3-4!” which serves as announcement of the arrival of the first chorus. Catchy, infectious – sure, it’s all that and more, but what the refrain truly does effectively is encourage the listener to *sing along.* This is a track that invites participation, which only ups the “fun quotient.” Bears mentioning: the nifty walking bass is, for my money, as crucial to the overall impact of the chorus as even the vocal melody. Great stuff!

We do another go ‘round of the verse/chorus (which is every bit as entertaining as the first) and then reach the middle-8 of “She’s Got Sorcery” at 1:52. The band treats us to a well-constructed guitar solo that echoes the main vocal line, which is fine and dandy in its own right, but there’s also something distinctly… different going on. While there have been uniquely constructed keyboard flourishes and beds during the entire track, at this point we get a very… computer-y, video game-sounding synth lead that speaks to one of the defining elements of much of I Fight Dragons’ discography. This new aspect of the song continues for the remainder until we reach the end at 2:51

As a primary architect of chiptune-injected post-punk power pop, the band creates the type of smile-inducing, good-time tuneage that is enduring as a classic 8-bit video game. What’s “chiptune,” you ask, and how did I Fight Dragons land at this creative, niche sub-genre as a conduit for musical expression? “We sort of stumbled into it actually,” admits Mazzaferri. “A few years back when I was first working with Bill to record some demos, I thought it would be cool if the intro to a song we were working on sounded like it was the chorus of the song, but coming out of a [video game console].  After a few hours of 'research'… we mocked something up and we were so happy that I immediately started searching around to see if there were other people making this kind of music.”

Overall, “She’s Got Sorcery” is a bouncy, buoyant affair that you absolutely don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate and enjoy to the fullest – but it doesn’t hurt! You’re gonna have a blast with this one!

Chicago indie rock quartet Ratboys returned in 2023 with their fifth full-length album, The Window. Lead single “Black Earth, WI” is nothing short of a modern-day masterpiece that takes listeners on a journey from country-leaning roots-rock, to art-pop, to new millennium jam, and then some. Settle in, because this one’s a slow burn that reveals more nuance and layered meaning with each repeat listen.

At the top of the song, a casually unfurled drum bill leads to delicate, tremolo-heavy guitar twang over a gently swaggering bass line and laid-back drums before lead vocalist Julia Steiner sings a single note at 59 seconds in. These folks are in no hurry and let the music take them – and you – where it may. What’s the rush, anyway, when you’ve got a groove this soothing and inviting? And as for that voice – if there’s a more wistful, melancholy-yet-hopeful singer out there, I’m all ears. At 1:26, Ratboys ups the intensity ever so slightly before reigning in mere moments later. Some grittier, distorted guitar joins the picture here and there and, by the time we reach the 2:07 point we’re at… a chorus? Let’s see. No rush. What follows is a slithery, slowly unfurling guitar lead that’s all undulating transitions and subtle dissonance. Dave Sagan (guitar) is taking his time with this and the end results are immediately rewarding and long-lasting. Those eagerly awaiting the return of the guitar solo courtesy of some metal shredders would be better served turning their attention to Chicago and the musical stylings of Ratboys. By my count, this guitar showcase is over four minutes long, ladies and gentlemen – and it at no point comes across as meandering wankery. This is well-constructed, thoughtful – and most importantly *musical* – guitar showmanship that really makes a statement in today’s context. 

Which isn’t to say “Black Earth, WI” is merely a showcase for astonishing fretwork. While Sagan is putting on his master class, the rest of the group – Steiner (guitar, vocals), Sean Neumann (bass, vocals), and Marcus Nuccio (drums) – are on fire, themselves, with plenty of clever, cerebral interplay and clever application of harmony and counterpoint. When the final note of the solo decays into the reverb/delay/feedback ether around 6:50, we’re treated to a return of Steiner’s vocals leading us down a path that includes weirdly-treated, low-in-the-mix background vocals and hypnotic guitars until, at 8:34, everything just… stops.

This nearly nine-minute(!) cut is a zany, pumping shapeshifter with bold, biting volume contrasted with quiet introspection. Gauzy, gallows imagery and jangly single-coil guitars ride above twisting rhythms and at-times surprisingly busy bass lines making for an untouchable assemblage of sonic and lyrical components that land like the warm aftershock of deep turmoil (or is it joy?). What “Black Earth, WI” *is* is for the band to know and the listener to decide – like all the best music. And what group in today’s climate has the confidence and patience to allow the natural flow of their own music to dictate song-length like this? These four, certainly.

Steiner observes, “We wanted to achieve this ‘live band in a room sound.’ Specifically, that very open, almost ‘70s roomy vibe… Over the course of playing the tune, with no real deadline, just enjoying ourselves and figuring out the best arrangement in a very slow, natural, organic way with the band. We kind of settled into this groove and this like length, for the song.”

The strategy paid off – and then some. My advice? Do as Ratboys did and settle in, immerse yourself in the groove, and enjoy the ride.

Blame It On Whitman “Pack of Smokes,” I Fight Dragons “She’s Got Sorcery,” and Ratboys “Black Earth, WI” are Rock Band 4 DLC available now. All three can both be yours FREE to celebrate RB4’s birthday!

  • Blame It On Whitman – “Pack of Smokes”
  • I Fight Dragons – “She’s Got Sorcery”
  • Ratboys – “Black Earth, WI”

VIDEO: Rock Band 4 DLC Week of 10/6: Blame It On Whitman “Pack of Smokes,” I Fight Dragons “She’s Got Sorcery,” and Ratboys “Black Earth, WI”



*Please note that this week’s DLC tracks will be available for “purchase” (these three are free of charge!) on Friday, October 6th.