Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cage / Hell's Winter / Rating 8.3

stab stab stab, kill kill kill, drugs drugs drugs

It only seems appropriate that the first and only time I met Cage ended in what I will politely call a crash and burn with a nightcap called blackout.

Cage in tow with El-P and I were probably not in need of more drinks but with ninja like moves I hijacked a full bottle of Jack Daniels for the three of us to privately consume at an industry party. My memory begins to splinter here but I recall being in awe of El-P collecting backgammon sets and feeling genuinely concerned about this very quiet large man who looked like he could play a bad guy on America’s Most Wanted or was in fact one of America’s Most Wanted. It is terrible to label a man I had only heard rumors of being beyond troubled but my first impression was indeed of the kind of darkness I associate with shadows. This wasn’t a ghost of a man; this was a black cloud of a man. (I will also add without revealing too much personal history and in character assassination fairness, it takes one to know one.) The party train burst into flames somewhere around here, we shared a car back to the hotel, went our separate ways, aaaaaaaaannnnnnnndddddddddddd fade.

Black is mostly what I remember from there.

There were rumblings immediately upon Cage finishing his record for Definitive Jux that it was 100% the kind of masterpiece that defines definitive and would bring the label another best in show trophy for their record shelf. I was trying to imagine what this new Cage cd would sound like considering the special guests varied from Daryl Palumbo of Glass Jaw to Jello Biafra to James M. of Yo La Tengo but all I could be certain of was the themes would be dark as tar.

I realized today that my favorite records of 2005 pile doesn't feature one full length hip-hop release so it was about time I added one my collection.

Cage 2005 has slimmed down his husky thug appearance and adopted a indie rock shag cut which brings him closer to looking like Pete Dougherty's older brother than the dude your parents prayed you never associated with. Anyone can update a look but more importantly these changes coincide nicely with the man who has exorcized some of his demons and come out the other side with a record highlighting a serious metamorphous.

The combined skills of people like Shadow, RJD2, Camu, Blockhead, EL-P, and Aesop lay down a bed of remarkable talent behind Cage but what makes Hell’s Winter powerful is the one thing nobody but Cage can bring; the story of Cage as told by Cage. His decision to rap about his unbelievably grim past no less in a completely uncensored form, brings the idea of bloodletting to a whole new level. The Get Up Kids never had mysterious blood marks on their walls to emote about. That’s the kind of sickness and internal venom black metal bands pretend to experience. The real Cage, the one who I am not completely convinced has made it to the other side yet has survived to tell his story and has a creative audio outlet that also clearly doubles as a (his) life saving device. This kind of channeled productive rage is a therapists dream and should be the bible to every troubled kid who feels hate towards a life they are too young to help shape or control.

A ravaged personal history on display combined with Cage’s red carpet list of collaborators could have potentially equaled a massive hip-hop makeover, something the genre like any other could stand to have every now and then but as PFM points out the cliché themes of calling out enemies, money, violence, city shout outs, and crude sexual anecdotes take an otherwise daring record back a few steps. This is where I personally face a moral dilemma. Do I have the right to apply my PC indie rock lyric standards to a different genre that holds a totally different set standards? Probably not she says stepping off her high horse.

This may be a bizarre point of reference but I consider the new and improved Cage on par with filmmaker Lars Von Trier (I know from reading Cage interviews he would prefer I say Kubrick but I am sticking to Lars) Stylistically I know both artist’s work will suffocate me with images that leave nothing to the imagination. The picture keeps rolling, the words keep coming, the brutality of despicable moments is never softened. They both keep firing directly at you and the horrors of humanity unfold until the entire story is told.

Not only does this require a particular mind set for me to handle it, the real down side is I can’t take it in over and over again. I like both artist’s work but there are only so many times I can feel emotionally destroyed by Breaking the Waves or Hell’s Winter. As a person who pays close attention to lyrics it is nearly impossible for me to tune out Cage’s graphic stories. Exposing human nature at its most carnal doesn’t make for easy listening, I don’t care how interesting the beats and samples are. For those who aren’t as hyper-sensitive you can ignore my knee-jerk reaction but bring a flashlight, it’s good and dark in there.

I salute the 8.3 PFM rating but the bulk of their review skates over too many of Hell’s Winter stats for my taste rather than explaining the blood and guts of what really makes this record.

Cage and Hell's Winter is all about the blood and guts.