Cold Pumas is a horrible name for a band, or at least a distracting one. Is it slang for a really nice pair of Puma sneakers, or is it meant to literally bring to mind a group of big cats that are enduring frigid conditions? It just doesn’t seem to complement the outstanding music they make, or at least the music on their new album titled Persistent Malaise. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that Cold Pumas consciously choose, for better or worse, to not burden themselves with such marketing and brand-building concerns, just as they choose to avoid gimmicks to separate themselves from the music that has influenced them. Cold Pumas are like the bizarro Interpol. Both bands thrive on the brittle post-punk established by Joy Division, but where Interpol reimagined the sound as something metropolitan and futuristic, Cold Pumas explore the sounds primal roots. You can hear elements of krautrock and post-punk in every song, which isn’t exactly stretching the imagination into the realm of the unexpected, but confounding their listeners may not be their aim. When surf-rock shifts offer brief flickers of sunlight, or shoe-gaze guitar swells pull you into the center of the funnel-cloud, you start to get an idea of what these guys from Brighton, England might be up to. Persistent Malaise plays like an exercise in rock-anthropology with a focus on the evolution of guitar based music that isn’t directly derived from the blues, country, or folk. Between the relentless guitars and steady rhythms that make Persistent Malaise surprisingly danceable, the album has a factory like atmosphere where the lyrics, like casual conversation, get a little lost in the mix. It’s that last detail that makes the men of Cold Pumas the ghosts in their own machine and prevents me from making a strong connection with the album despite how exhilarating it is. Cold Pumas may not be the greatest name, but I believe that the music a band makes ultimately determines how their name is perceived. There’s a good chance that by the time Cold Pumas release their next album that their name will be to post-punk what Ty Segall is to psych-garage – that is to say that they could be considered standard bearers for a brand of rock music that, when done right, always sounds relevant.
A few of my favorite tracks from Persistent Malaise, a great late addition to 2012:
“A Versatile Gift” – A brutal introduction that sets the tone for the entire album, “A Versatile Gift” features alternating riffs, multiple tempo changes, and vocals that mutate to adapt to their sonic environment. It’s the sound of a young band taking advantage of hindsight to blur the lines between the different influences that inspire them.
“Fog Cutter” – If the krautrock band Faust had ever written a surf-tune (and maybe they did), or if Brian Wilson tried to write a krautrock song, it might sound like this song. The drums and bass are locked into a metronomic rhythm that seems lifted from the default settings of an early generation drum machine. The vocals and guitars steadily build and then break as if struggling to find their footing, but when they settle into the groove with the other elements the song builds to a rousing finish.
“The Modernist Crown” – When this song arrives to kick off the second half of Persistent Malaise it’s like someone has suddenly turned on the bright lights. It’s a moment when they sound less like Joy Division creating post-human soundscapes, and more like early Interpol trying to get New Yorkers to violate anti-dancing laws. Cold Pumas pull out every trick in their playbook while adding Thom Yorke’ian wails and Sonic Youth sound squalls to the mix. The Modernist Crown validates a philosophy that doesn’t seem concerned with reinventing the wheel, especially if it means scrapping what works simply to avoid sounding derivative.
Uncertain of what I was getting into with a band named Cold Pumas I decided to purchase Persistent Malaise from Amazon in MP3 form. Avoid my mistake and grab the vinyl here from Insound. The name is growing on me.