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Post rock has become a many limbed beast over the last decade. From the early days of Tortoise and Mogwai it has branched out in a multitude of directions. Incorporating the extremes of ambient and metal it has veered dangerously close to prog rock territory, in danger of disappearing up its own arse through bland intricacy and pretentious song titles.
Thankfully Wisconsin’s Cougar spare us the dungeons and dragons nerdiness and focus on a fairly wide palette of sounds and dynamics on their new album Patriot. They have produced a clinical record that surprises constantly with its twists and turns.
Ostensibly an instrumental electronic rock band they start the album with Stay Famous and its monstrous surging riff that breaks away to reveal some intricate drumming and cascading guitar figures. They lull you into a false sense of sonic security for a few minutes before again unleashing the wall of electro-distortion that carries you back to the surface for the last minute of the song. It is engaging stuff and a perfect introduction to what Cougar are trying to achieve.
Florida Logic has a neat trick when it inserts a digitally chopped up guitar riff amongst the rock sounds, as if Squarepusher made a desperate grab for the mixing desk. It serves to remind you that Cougar are more than they appear to be.
Pelourinho is the band at the most abstract with fluttering effects-driven guitars and smears of dreamy static before an acoustic folky guitar settles things down and then morphs into a complex polyrhythmic knitting class. It is folk jazz filtered through some post modern genre randomizer and it is both engaging and fun. They later add some structure into this mood on Endings with its shoegaze glitch-pop stylings.
The flip side to Cougar’s sound is Thundersnow which as the name suggests is a charging bull of a song, all splashing cymbals, economic and tight riffing and a disregard for overindulgence which sees the song finishing abruptly after 2 minutes. Heavy Into Jeff is the electronic equivalent of Thundersnow, very much in a digital Nine Inch Nails fashion.
The album continues to pop up surprises and by the time the string section of Absaroka drifts into the distance you feel like you have been on some kind of journey, a rarity in this day and age of digital singles and short attention spans. Cougar are an amalgam of FourTet, Smashing Pumpkins, Tortoise and Battles yet they have combined those influences to create their own special niche among the crowded post rock world.
Patriot is out now on Ninja Tune/Inertia