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Cougar - Law

Released on Layered Music, 2/20/07

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical as I sat down to listen to Cougar’s first release, Law. Here we have yet another band selling themselves to the animal name niche, instantly rendering the brain helpless against the influx of guilt by association. The comparisons are quite simply there, warranted or not. It seems that, as of late, a commingling of beasts and creatures -- domesticated and otherwise -- has overtaken the popular music world. It is an Orwellian prophecy. We currently have snakes, wolves, ants, buffalo, birds, cats, fish (also phish, which still counts), horses, leopards, dinosaurs, dogs, bunnies, frogs, tigers, rats, turtles, and cougars composing the music we humans listen to today. Animal Farm is a reality.

It is both a risk and an assertion to take on a name such as Cougar, even more so if you are an instrumental, improvisational five-piece from Madison, Wisconsin. Namely there is the fear you will be lost and forgotten on the Noah’s Arc of other animals trying to make it through the entertainment industry flood, but also the fact that it is quite the name to live up to.

The first track on Law, “Atlatl”, is amazing. It opens with subtle and melodic guitar strums, then launches into an onslaught of straight-up guitar riffage to make any math-head proud, and ends with an enormous and rhythmically enhanced break-beat finale. They, unfortunately, never revisit anything quite as fierce and obvious throughout the rest of Law, instead opting for a more gradual and delicate approach to their concepts and sound that they describe as “emergency music”.

Cougar is just this: music based upon reflex and reaction, the greater good, and goal-based collaboration. While their overly similar interludes and percussive breaks may lend to an overall blend effect, the sharp contrast of well-placed guitar hooks and low-end, driving bass forces the listener to pay attention. I look forward to watching these cats live.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars