Cog / Vuneny
Course Over Ground / V2
2007 / 2006
B+ / B
oonlee Records is the leading independent record label in Slovenia and Croatia. This may not seem like much, as music from those countries has hardly dented the popular consciousness. However, this is due to lack of access, rather than quality. Slovenia only this year switched to the euro, while Croatia has yet to join the EU. Customs fees in Croatia are steep, and broadband Internet remains under monopoly control. Thus, information flow in the region faces economic obstacles.
However, discerning listeners would do well to track down Moonlee's catalogue. Its scope is diverse, covering explosive alt-rock (Analena), stoner sludge (Chang Ffos), grindcore (Senata Fox), Fat Wreck-style pop punk (Debeli Precjednik), mutated drum 'n' bass (Bilk), and more. Two recent releases, by Croatia's Cog and Bosnia's Vuneny, further expand that range.
Cog is an amazingly authentic throwback to early '90s math rock. The band accurately cites Slint and Shellac as influences, but Jawbox and Don Caballero also come to mind. Thus, expect brainy, oblique rock and a bone-dry, Electrical Audio-worthy recording. Cog is a trio, and each member fits perfectly in that space. The rhythm section is lithe and crisp, with economical yet colorful drumming. Snares crack and cymbals ring in perfect fidelity, while the bass rumbles with satisfying low end. Guitars burst with chewy tones and a cornucopia of techniques. Surf-inspired tremolo picking, spicy chords, and dissonant jangles create a constantly shifting soundscape, while staccato riffs and furious harmonics recall the Jesus Lizard and Fugazi. The presentation is so supple and beautifully abstract that had this album come out 15 years ago, it could have gone toe-to-toe with the masters.
Vuneny, in contrast, looks to the future with slash-genred zeal. "Other/dub/emo," its MySpace claims, which is sort of true. "Other" should read "rock" or "electronic," while "emo" seems to be the typical third-slot joke. At its heart, Vuneny plays dub, conjuring up windswept psychedelia that suggests the faux-exotic bridge of Sting's "Desert Rose" freed of pop trappings.
However, the band grafts on myriad other sounds, which sometimes work. "Lullaby" carves deep, distant grooves like Tool gone dub. "Curse of Sound (Dub Mix)" is a hybrid of dancehall, bhangra, and "extreme sports video game" over-processed guitars. These are funny for a few seconds, but the band likes them perhaps too much. "Tolerate Space" is a surly version of the Folk Implosion's "Natural One," while "Tribute to My Deadborn Love" sounds like a Depeche Mode jam session. The line between cheesy and sublime is thin, and Vuneny straddles it with verve. Wince/cheer at the spaghetti western/prog house/downtempo of "So Long Satellites," and marvel at the work-in-progress that is Western popular music infiltrating the Balkans.