You have to admire an ambitious rock band, even if you don't really want to listen to its music. Cougar is such a band. Titling its sound "Emergency Rock," Cougar gives listeners a synthesis of aural and visual (through album photographs) experience, experimenting with all manner of traditional and nontraditional noisemakers. It's even more impressive that the band does all this and manages, at times, to rock out and get funky. On Cougar's new disc the Madison, Wisconsin, quintet (which features members of the incredible Youngblood Brass Band) trots out the atmospheric sampling, layered instrumentation and innovative percussion that has made bands such as Tortoise intermittently kick ass. In fact, Tortoise member and postrocker-at-large John McEntire has left direct prints on Law
, having recorded many of the songs and mixed the whole thing. Not to mince words, but Cougar sounds a lot like Tortoise and even more like the pretentious '90s McEntire side project Directions in Music, especially on "Interracial Dating" and "Lifetime Ranger." Ear-candy sound effects and underwater production add fun to these songs, but they're basically just throwaway ditties. More impressive are the drum-line and latin-prog-noodle-funk-laden rockers "Atlatl" and "Pulse Conditioner." These tunes come early in the disc, and it seems that as the record goes on, Cougar forgets to rock, and the music starts to sound boring and repetitive. It's disappointing, because there's definitely potential here, but it just gets bogged down in too much window dressing. See Cougar in a live setting this Thursday, February 1, at the Jackpot Music Hall, with the Belles and Cavaliers.