Thursday, December 3, 2009

#27: Cougar>Patriot>Baring Teeth

Artist : Cougar
Album : Patriot (2nd Domestic LP)
Release :
Year Founded : 2003
Label Name : Counter Records
Catalog # : 024
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Members : David Henzie-Skogen, Todd Hill, Trent Johnson, Aaron Sleator, Dan Venne
Runtime : 45:48
Area Tour Dates : None at time of publication
Sound Season : Summer, Winter
iTunes Worthy Tracks : Stay Famous, Florida Logic, Thundersnow, Daunte v. Armada
Sounds Like : Couch Figur 5
Rating : A-

According to a previous post I wrote, "[Cougar] 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." Well, "epic emergency rock" still seems a bit inflated to me, but the band has done well to hone in on a sound that thrives on inconsistency. That isn't to say that they leap from genre to genre, but that they are able to create with a typical rock ensemble a varied soundscape that sometimes lulls, at others jars, and still at others makes one want to leap from one's seat and storm the nearest castle.

It seems that the group has found a penchant for the anthemic on Patriot. "Florida Logic," for instance, sounds like it would be completely at home in the giant robot battle scene in Casshern. What the group tends to do particularly well is begin the song with one phrase (a phrase that will often have one rhythmic quirk to it, but remains deceptively simple), digress into a serene tangent and then return to the first phrase with added emphasis and energy to conclude the song. And while that description may sound like a recipe for sonic ennui, the enthusiasm of the reprise almost always provokes a sort of Newtonian reaction, compelling various jerky movements of the extremities.

Filled with electronic tricks that dirty up the sound and keep things from sounding like they're all one way all the time, Cougar, like all bands do, borrow from their contemporaries, employing Ratatat-like doubled guitar solos on "Rhinelander" and ultra layered rhythms reminiscent of percussion-heavy passages from various Mice Parade songs on "Pelourinho" and others.

Patriot also has a surprising range of emotion considering that this is an instrumental band we're talking about. Compared to a band like The Mercury Program, whose sound is very pleasant, but decidedly static, Cougar are able to appear dark and unapproachable, then hopeful, then introspective, then exuberantly triumphant ("Endings"). Every song has something the listener can take away from it, something that endears itself to the ear.

On Law Cougar spent too much time on one idea, leaving little room for the moments of catharsis that instrumental music so often needs to save itself from the trap of becoming so much sonic wallpaper. We see in Patriot then a band more in tune to its own strengths, and one more willing to capitalize on those strengths, resulting in songs that encapsulate entire histories instead of just so many moments. Once a cub amused and amazed at its own abilities, Cougar has grown into its skin.