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The Fangs, The Fur, and the Justification of Consumer Electronics

Did Cougar's transcendent guitar rock really justify this new iPod? Only me and my personal trainer know for sure.

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: September, 2006
I'm sure this confounded instrument has some sort of "most played" setting which will reveal a playlist solely of this song.

Cougar
Law
(Layered Arts Collective)

I had this ancient iRock that I bought at the very beginning of the personal mp3 player craze. I bought it under the same principles of justification that most men employ when venturing into the purchase of consumer electronics - we are going to spend this money on something that will improve our life in some way. Personal listening devices intersect with the desire to "start exercising" but in my case, are soon shelved along with my workout plan after the first couple rounds. I am man enough to realize and surf the wave of justification when entering a big box store full of toys. So after my daughter's second swim lesson where I coaxed my inertia-laden blob onto the track while she learned to not-drown, I discovered that my tried-and true iRock had blown out its left channel, shifting it from quaint to useless. So I bought an iPod - what was I supposed to do, stop exercising? My life may very well be at stake here.

In the fifties, when the stereo hi-fi was the iPod, people sought out demo records with bongos and birdcalls and sweeping channel shifts to exploit the powers of their new equipment. I imagine there has never been a copy of the "1812 Overture sold" that didn't accompany some high-dollar audio gear in the cart. To me, though, the delicate nature of my 2G Nano calls out for something more delicate, more intimate, yet complex and engaging. And it just so happens that my favorite CD of all time this week Law by Madison, WS post-rock outfit Cougar fits that requirement perfectly.

Cougar is the twinkling instrumental guitar and beats project by some of the cats from the utterly brilliant Youngblood Brass band - an organic array of skittery martial beats, subtle electronics and recombinant strains of lilting guitar. The band calls it "emergency rock" but that comes off as too insistent. This is more subliminal rock, bordering on the innocuousness of trip-hop without the commercial overtones. The guitar lines, layered one atop another, make kaleidoscopes in my earbuds while the complimentary beats and shudders propel it forward. In tenor, it almost has thet Windham Hill thing going on, but much like the trip-hop label, don't let these paltry comparisons dissuade you.

The first track "Atlatl" is the best, starting out as a babbling trickle and slowly building into a volcano eruption by the end. I'm sure this confounded instrument has some sort of "most played" setting which will reveal a playlist solely of this song. This song rings the gong of my personal Shaolin temple. Other tracks like it make a close second, like the serene "Strict Scrutiny," the careful steps of "Interracial Dating" and the resplendency of "Your Majesty". But none of them form the monolith like "Atlatl." I feel like I'm in my own, personally-tailored Nike ad as I lumber around the track with it erasing all bad thoughts from my brain.

Interspersed throughout the Philosopher Stones mentioned above are pieces that rely more on the beats than the guitar, and while they are all top-notch clean design and intelligently wrought, they don't hit the same high the guitar pieces do. There are package of numbered tracks: "two" which is like the sampler let loose in the Spring air, "Three" consists of drums vs. those cool echoey sounds you get when you bang on the metal rail in a stairwell. "Four" sounds like it might be a lost rhythm track from the "Around the World in a Day" sessions. And so on. They are short interludes that break up the bliss. Keeps you on your toes. The larger ensemble tracks like "Black Dove" that marry the two styles make it worth going through the ingredients. "Merit" starts out descent, coming on like a Technicolor sunset and later exploding like a rescue flare, giving way to "Postscript" the delicate little fugue that closes this album. When that song came to its conclusion, I had a moment of tranquility engulfing me, until I panicked, searching for the repeat setting.

Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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