Rough Notes On High Stress
By: Eric Greenwood
Don't be fooled by any "featuring ex-members of" flyers for Computer Cougar, despite the fact that this New Jersey quartet does, in fact, feature former members of both Rorschach and Born Against. The band takes its cues from early British art-punk and late 70's garage rock instead of the quasi-metal hardcore scene of the early 90's from which its members spring. Along with obligatory nods to Gang Of Four, Wire, and Pere Ubu, Computer Cougar also pays homage to Mission Of Burma through its angular riffs and erratic rhythms.
This eight-song full-length (?) compiles the band's demo and one track off its debut seven-inch. Minimal to the point of mimicry, "Too Much" perfectly captures the controlled frustration and anger of the post-punk movement that flourished in Britain in the midst of new wave and new romanticism. By stubbornly summoning only those melodies and progressions that are famously familiar, however, Computer Cougar limits itself to a one-dimensional sound, albeit one that most assuredly rocks. And for only eighteen minutes of music, it's a worthwhile history lesson.
Computer Cougar's brevity lends its songs an air of immediacy. The guitars on "Stunt Pilot" jerk clumsily for exactly one minute while heavily affected and strangely British-sounding vocals frantically shout obtuse lyrics about fame. To say that "Good Morning' is pithy is an understatement. It's essentially two riffs and a paranoid rant: "It's six a.m. I want to know how you would say good morning to a nightmare." "The 8-Month Fantasy" is a bit meatier, showing off the band's terse dynamic. Generously borrowing tension from Mission Of Burma, Computer Cougar explores fiery melodies amidst its somewhat amateurish musicianship.
Computer Cougar's meticulously retro production may keep the DIY spirit alive, but it often hinders the music's impact. "Photos That Don't Exist" is a hurried and frantic onslaught of herky-jerky rhythms and noise, but the guitars are drowned out by the pistol-shot snare sound and the thuddy low end. The possessed vocals steal the spotlight, however: "got to make a move/got to make a move/that's what I say/hey hey." Flexing its experimental muscle, Computer Cougar tries its hand at spoken word, and even though it defies the universally accepted notion that all spoken word is bad, "Picture Perfect" actually works, building tension through repetition and explosion.
As much of a fan as I am of the short and sweet is best aesthetic, Rough Notes On High Stress should probably be priced as an EP instead of a full-length. Eighteen minutes at almost two dollars a song is pushing it, but I must admit I don't get my Wire fix often enough.