Monday, August 3, 2009

To Give Me The Needed Professional Help To Protect Me From The Enemy, Myself

Depart From Me (Cage, 2009)

Second installment of my music reviews takes us to the latest from Definitive Jux rapper Chris Palko, better known as Cage. After radically changing his style from his debut record Movies for the Blind, Cage released his critically praised, but core 'fan' shunned, follow up Hell's Winter. Songs like "Ballad of Worms" and "In Stony Lodge" had prefaced Cage's lyrical shift, and once again the man has evolved as an artist and elevated his musical style with the release of his latest record four years after his previous. Stand outs like "Shoot Frank" and "The Subtle Art of the Break Up Song" paved the way for Cage's growth as a musician as Depart From Me begins to mark the artist's self proclaimed beginning of the end.

Nothing Left To Say - Starting off with a spacey pseudo-techno, pseudo-Radiohead background beat, Cage recites some thought provoking rhymes in a more poetic and subdued style, setting the album's tone perfectly, and then the drums blast in with a booming presence before Cage starts rapping quickly, as per usual. Then he starts singing, apparently dedicating the song to the late Camu Tao, before letting the instruments play wonderfully. Cage finishes with a solid verse and closes by singing the chorus again as the instruments mash up beautifully. A great establishing song to kick the album off.

Best Line: "Awaiting the hand of god knowing I stand to fall
I stared into the pitch black to no hand at all"

Beat Kids - Cage departs slightly from the style of the previous track to let the power chordy beat take centre stage as he slowly spins a chilling yarn before transitioning to a catchy chorus that juxtaposes the subject matter nicely. The mastery of the delivery here is apparent as Cage challenges conventional expectations and asks the listener to question and compromise established beliefs. The use of children in the second chorus backing up Cage is an effective technique too that adds to the song's themes.

Best Line: "And as he forces himself inside her
Her eyes dart around with pain
He says, “You can talk but no one listens to liars.”
But you will surely get yours one day"

Dr Strong - Introducing the song rather quietly and quickly, Cage simply states his former membership of Stony Lodge Hospital before the song picks up a powerful beat that makes great use of more modern industrial metal instrumentals. The song picks up a melodic and trippy semi-piano part about half way through the first as Cage begins exploring the forced drugs of his time in the mental asylum. This aspect is paired beautifully with a tragically moving chorus that Cage belts out impressively. The song ends with the final line of this chorus painfully held to mirror Cage's beaten down state that he describes before completely calming out with a wonderfully diabolical final line.

Best Line: "When you wake up drugged it’s tough to get your thoughts sorted
And you realize you’re tied down about to be drawn and quartered
But there’s no horses about to rip you limb from limb
But the tranquilizer in your blood is what they give to them"

I Found My Mind In CT - The opening minute of guitar here beautifully establishes the song's mood and tone while working to further showcase the album's embrace of more musically oriented tracks. Cage's instrument experimentation is particularly impressive on this track, and he certainly does not skimp on lyrical quality or delivery either. The subject matter is intense and morbid, particularly devoid of hope. The song is beautifully constructed, written, and delivered. Cage even integrates a bit of humor into the dreary lyrics that drip with a distinctive macabre.

Best Line: "My brain left me in PA, departed DC
Then begged me take it back crying in a bar in CT"

I Lost It In Havertown - Continuing the title from the previous song, Cage completely changes gears on this track to make for a fabulous one two punch. The insanely short run time is matched with an up tempo beat with a mash up of instruments that powerfully enhance Cage's lyrics. The distinction here is clearly that the style is more reminiscent of his older and quicker flows of albums past. The track effectively shows that Cage can still rap like he used to, but it also allows room for him to experiment with sound and grow as an artist. The song is great, but the two paired together are incredible artistic triumphs.

Best Lines: "You're tongue in your cheek and you're adorable weeping
Your water can leak in
Fill up the room as soon as I'm stuck in the deep end
I cling to a beacon I was sinking my teeth in
I flew from your region, left you some of my demons
You were some kind of treatment or something else"

Teenage Hands - Cage continues the run of short songs with one of the album's stand out tracks. Telling the story of a sexual deviant on the prowl, targeting high school girls and showing off to relive the apparent glory days, until the second verse when Cage perfectly transitions from the theme of the first verse to a more politically geared tale of a youth enlisting in the army and becoming another cog in the machine. To think that he does all of this in a mere thirty seconds is not only impressive, but a testament to Palko's ability as a master story teller.

Best Line: "Kissing on her neck and squeezing her hand
Like the lungs in your chest trying to breathe in sand
Knife in your stomach and they shut the van door
So you can find out they've got special plans for -


Eating Its Way Out Of Me - The song starts off with a repetitive beat that mirrors a saw, a nice effect that adds an unsettling feeling to what Cage is about to present. The song's lyrical material is probably the most diabolical so far, dealing with a masochist's mentality and detailing a dysfunctional relationship that flips the abuser/abusee role. Cage really shines here as a writer and a musician, establishing his style and perfectly blending the lyrics to the instruments. Clearly one of the record's most successful experiments.

Best Line: "Reopen the scab in my head that never healed right
I can say I’m happy, just don’t know what it feels like"

Kick Rocks - Cage really shows his ability as a story teller here, scripting the song at first before starting off with the chorus. The majority of the song actually plays out more as a dialogue than a song. The song is mighty magical and one of the record's more definitive. Cage really does not rap on the track at all, but the whole track is incredibly catchy and for some inexplicable reason works musically and is certainly one of the record's most fun songs to listen to, despite not being much of a song at all.

Best Line: "Hey, I'm sorry to hear about that mom, but uh look, I'm kinda busy right now
Help you move furniture!?
You're kinda breaking up...
Can you hear me!?

Captain Bumout - beginning with another spacey/trippy beat, the song quickly becomes very produced and eventually picks up an upbeat guitar as the song leads to the chorus. The song is actually an odd track, but once again shows strides in Cage's ability to adapt his lyrics and delivery to beats that become less and less standard and much more instrumental. Cage breaks a ton of barriers with this song and bridges a lot of gaps between rap and rock, not to mention the semi-tongue in cheek radio-esque chorus. An incredibly interesting track and one of the album's finest.

Best Line: "I'm such a misfit in social situations, I hate it
Depression medicated yet you're insecure and naked
I'm trying to loosen up, you're dying to read my sullen eyes
This intellectual black hole reeks of cologne and lies"

Strain - The record starts to wind down, but the instrumentals certainly do not let up. Cage starts to really nail the beat to delivery thing from here on out, so I am probably going to start cutting down on how much he develops over the run of the album. The song's lyrics are a mish-mash of standard Cage themes, but the lyrical prowess here is mighty impressive and is paired with one of the album's catchiest hooks. Seemingly designed to sing along to, the song is easily one of the highest points of the fourteen tracks.

Best Line: "I won’t let you go if you hate me, just don’t amputate me
I won’t try to kill myself today as long as you save me"

Fat Kids Need An Anthem - Certianly one of the record's strangest tracks, Cage breaks from his beat and delivery experimentation to experiment with sounds. Mimicking the famous rant from Suicidal Tendencies's "Institutionalized" Cage turns in an inspired effort where he begins to have a little fun with the record. While the song is not overly complex, it is a fun listen and touches on a few nice points. The absurdity of it all is what really makes the track stand out though and it provides a nice little bit of breathing room before the heavier final three tracks.

Best Lines: "I remember I was watching Fight Club with my ex-girlfriend and the part came up where he had bitch-tits and she laughed and I had bitch-tits so that means she was really laughing at me."

Look At What You Did - We may have just hit the high water mark. Everything about this track works flawlessly. Cage effectively makes use of instruments while capturing the sound that older fans love without compromising his newer sound or material. Cage weaves a tale, he makes a song, and he puts out an incredibly catchy chorus. The song is standard single stuff, but it is one Hell of a ride and pretty damn thrilling. All of these experiments seem to be paying off as Cage begins perfecting his sound.

Best Line: "Bloodsuckers looking at me stuck with mice
I got the blood of Christ on a cup of ice
She took my eyes and she put em on her somehow
Now I understand why she gets up after sundown"

Depart From Me - The penultimate track is also serves as the record's title, so expectations for the track should be mighty high, especially considering the slew of hits that Cage has been on up to this point. Thankfully, the track does not disappoint. In many ways it elevates even the previous track. The catchy chorus is replaced with one that contains an air of hurt arrogance, meshing with the lyrics wonderfully. The track actually does blend rock and rap perfectly, the experiment seems to mostly be complete and the results are clearly successful. Complex and beautiful, "Depart From Me" is something magical.

Best Lines: "All you need to say
You can share it with the dude in your bed
You did your crying career and started climbing
I thought it could be forever
Now on all my records you're dying"

"You knew it was so hard to see my brother die
so pardon me, you just depart from me
You ruined art for me..."

I Never Knew You - Closing things out with the record's first single is an interesting choice, but it only proves that Cage did make the record he wanted to make and that every song is ordered specifically to enhance the CDs themes. The chorus here showed the flashes of brilliance that would come with the record as the guitars on the chorus elevate with the chorus to flood the song with emotion. The subdued style juxtaposes the loud chorus for a mesmerizing effect. As a song the track works, but as a story it succeeds on more levels than E Harmony uses. A perfect cap to what is truly one Hell of a record. The song ends on a chilling note, the machine that started everything off shutting down. It's so beautiful.

Best Line: "If there was a way out I think you would've taken it
My hands and arms are the only way that you can leave
Face to face for the first time you feel what I'm feeling
Selfishly no longer breathing
Of me "

In just about every way Depart From Me is an upgrade for Cage as a musician. Yes some tracks fall flat, but the record allows him to once again refine a sound form a previous concept he had worked with on a previous album to make something magical. Cage spread his wings with Movies, he refined and perfected his lyrical material on Hell's Winter, and now he has started refining the way instruments work with lyrics in hip hop on Depart From Me. The strength that the final half of the album possesses tells me not only that Cage has carefully constructed the record in such a fashion that the full power it holds can only be experience when one sits down and actually listens to everything from start to finish in one sitting, but it also implies, given his previous track record, that his next record can potentially be one of, if not the, greatest CD ever made.

Personal track rankings below. I should also note that iTunes has a bonus song titled "Hugs and Kisses" which I do not have because I purchased my copy directly from Def Jux; thus, this review does not include that track.

14. Fat Kids Need An Anthem
13. Beat Kids
12. Kick Rocks
11. Captain Bumout
10. I Lost It In Havertown
9. Dr. Strong
8. Teenage Hands
7. I Never Knew You
6. Strain
5. I Found My Mind In CT
4. Nothing Left To Say
3. Eating Its Way Out Of Me
2. Look At What You Did
1. Depart From Me

I shall likely return next Monday, on my birthday, with a review of Chamillionaire's final entry in the Mixtape Messiah series, Mixtape Messiah 7.

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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