If music were capable of physically inhabiting space and time, of taking up residence in a room instead of just resonating in one, then perhaps we could properly map artists’ output. Some records would be synonymous with their place of their birth. Some would be suburbs leeching off the famous cities of their influences. Others would be unexplored islands far out at sea. Cougar fall into this last category, and it is a strange, beautiful land indeed.
Conceived in Madison, Wisconsin, Cougar’s instrumental arrangements fall somewhere between Four Tet, Fugazi, and Nick Drake’s guitar work, albeit optimistic as opposed to morose. The band’s singular sound is rooted in a keen sensibility of form and texture, more in line with sample-based music and modern classical than indie rock – which isn’t to say this is rock-as-academia – Cougar also invoke the roaring riff monster, the fist-in-the-air, anthemic head-banger to which so many groups give only an ironic nod.
Cougar’s second album, the forthcoming “Patriot,” is an aggressive, narrative affair that sees the band reach even greater extremes than on their debut, “Law.” The epic, sparkling counterpoint of the first record crops up, but “Patriot” firmly establishes itself as a different music, one that shreds the lines between electronic, rock and modern, but never forgets to pay allegiance to the hook. From the nuanced drive of opener “Stay Famous”, through the widescreen propulsion of “Florida Logic,” the choral sweep and electronic/organic beats of “Rhinelander” and the space logic of “Pelourinho,” the band lay out their stall early. The hard-rocking, polyrhythmic assault of “Thundersnow,” the fuzzed out “Heavy Into Jeff,” the melodic build and final explosion of “Endings,” the summer melancholy of “Appomattox,” and the Hammond-led uplift of “Daunte v. Armada” culminates in the final beauty of “Absaroka”. It’s a record which sounds completely consistent and of a piece, yet manages to range widely across musical genres and style.
Extensive touring supported the group’s debut album, “Law” (mixed with John McEntire of Tortoise), which made numerous Best of 2007 lists in the USA. Live dates in the States and abroad included stints with U.N.K.L.E., Maximo Park, Art Brut and more. Paul Smith of Maximo Park (in calling “Law” his favorite release of 2007) is on record as an admirer of their “unique blend of beautiful instrumental melodies and propulsive rhythms, both organic and electronic”, which sums up this unique group’s unique appeal about as well as anything.