I learned to play drums by playing Rock Band. For several months, I spent a huge portion of my free time pushing the few pieces of furniture I owned to the periphery of my college apartment so that I could fire up my Xbox and smack wooden sticks against a flimsy contraption made of rubber and cheap plastic. Along the way I snapped several shoddily made bass pedals in half as I tried to blast my way through an overly simplified version of “Everlong.”
Now, to be clear, I was a terrible drummer. Within the confines of Rock Band I was adequate or maybe even above average but if you sat me be behind an actual drum kit, the best I could hope to do was hack my way through a few very basic beats. Despite all of that—the low level of skill involved, the gamified way of gaining it and the ultimately impractical nature of the whole thing—developing the coordination required to play something that was recognizable as a beat still felt like an accomplishment.
In light of my struggles, a small and prideful part of my brain feels like it should be impossible for any one person to master enough instruments that they are able to write and record an entire album all alone. And yet this happens all the time. Predictably, that selfsame portion of my brain is fascinated by this occurrence which is why I keep checking in on artists like Bryce Avary’s one-man affair, The Rocket Summer.
What struck me most about the band’s most recently release, 2016’s Zoetic, is that the album opens with Avary himself clearly learning new tricks. “Cold War” features industrial sounds that are reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails—which seems like a crazy thing to say in relation to The Rocket Summer, but here we are—while Avary also employs vocal tics that channel Michael Jackson. It’s a strange track. And yet it kind of works for me, maybe because its unexpected and occasionally awkward construction reminds me that it’s okay to try something unfamiliar, to employ a new skill even if you haven’t mastered it yet.
Or maybe I just like hearing Avary shout, “Yeow!” Could be that, too.