Artist : Cougar
Album : Law (1st Domestic LP)
Release : 04.24.07
Year Founded : 2004
Label Name : Layered Music
Catalog # : 012
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Gatefold Digipak
Members : Todd Hill, Joseph Hulbert, D.H. Skogen, Aaron Sleator, TrentJohnson, Dan Venne
Runtime : 47:38
pictureArea Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Summer, Winter
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Atlatl, Pulse Conditioner, Your Excellency, Merit
Sounds Like : Couch Figur 5
Rating : B
Cougar's debut album, Law, was, according to the liner notes, recorded three years ago. I'm more than a bit curious to know why then the band did not choose to record new material to release as their debut and use tracks from Law later on in their career as an "early, unreleased, rare recordings" album for fans. Three years is a substantial amount of time. Some bands can release two successful albums in the span of three years. I almost feel cheated by being given the old material (I may be wrong, but I suspect that the album was on hold as the band waited for it to be mixed by John Mcentire of Tortoise and The Sea and Cake fame, who probably has a substantial waiting list. After all, being able to have his name on the album might be enough to get people to buy a record by an otherwise unheard of group). It's like eating leftovers. Like I am listening to the old Cougar when I could really be listening to the new Cougar, which may show some of the growth and refining that Law needs.
The album begins well enough with "Atlatl," which is dainty at first with only a simple melodic guitar line, but builds steadily, adding elements until the song breaks and launches into what seems to be simply another delicate variation. But the band instead takes that variation and ups the volume and roughens the edges. It really grabs your attention. But, unfortunately, that goes on for 10 measures before the drums drop out. Then the guitars echo the same part alone for another 5 measures before the drums finally come back in, this time with the bass, and the band finally rock the same part again for the rest of the song. It is a great motion in the song, and worthy of showcasing, but the band's approach in its songwriting makes it a little unsatisfying.
In addition to some great — if fleeting — rock moments, like "Pulse Conditioner," which features an agile guitar line offset by jarring tinny drumming, there's also plenty of pretty on Law. "Lifetime Ranger," "The Mosaicist" and "Black Dove" all have wonderful pieces. But Cougar seem content to sit on their hands once those pieces are in place. They lay some beautiful foundations for what could be compelling instrumentalism, but end up being more like pleasant background music. This is not the "epic emergency rock" that they claim to be.
The Cougar that listeners are presented with on Law is in its infancy. It's a bit clumsy, a bit unfocused, and — when it is able to muster a roar — unsure of its own ferocity. All of the band's songs are interesting, but not all of them remain interesting. Cougar is at its best when it avoids subtlety and goes right for the jugular.