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splendid > reviews > 11/21/2005
Cage
Cage
Hell's Winter
Definitive Jux


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Grand Ol Party Crash"

Buy me now
Hell's Winter might not be strictly autobiographical, but there's enough of Chris Palko's life in it for you to know that the guy has overcome (and is still overcoming) some seriously fucked-up shit. Let's start with a heroin-addict father, immortalized and reviled in "Stripes". The first line of the song's chorus is "Fuck Bill Murray / Not the actor, the deadbeat dad"; it would be funny, if not for the heartstring-pulling tale of Palko's abandoned mother and barren childhood.

Much of Hell's Winter is similarly harrowing. "Subtle Art of the Breakup Song" describes a K-hole-caused auto wreck that kills the narrator's girlfriend (sample lyric: "Glove box / My girl's face smashed in it... Pulled her shoulder back, touched her arm / Her entire fuckin' face is gone"). Whether this track describes an actual event or not, it's probably the record's most viscerally disturbing cut. Elsewhere, we get a few breaks (relatively speaking). The anti-Republican "Grand Ol Party Crash" touches on dead GIs and the erosion of civil liberties, but features Jello Biafra lampooning Dubya (as well as a kick-ass trashy beat furnished by DJ Shadow). "Peeranoia" apes the requisite bravado-filled tale of thug life, turned on its head: conquering rather than glorifying drug abuse, and serving up a big dollop of self-deprecation ("If you don't hear back from me / It's probably 'cause my record flopped and my life is a catastrophe"). Not exactly sunny, but lighter fare than a six-year-old Palko holding the tourniquet for his dad in "Too Heavy for Cherubs". Cage has a gift for infusing traumatic stories with gallows humor, a tactic that intensifies their impact rather than otherwise.

Cage wouldn't be nearly as effective without decent production. The music on Hell's Winter is much better than decent; Palko brought in several guest producers on this outing, including El-P, Camu Tao, Blockhead, and RJD2, whose Rhodes-based "Shoot Frank" is understated but lovely. There are lots of dirty, retro-sounding synths and heavy beats to go along with the heavy subject matter, but graceful hooks abound as well; it's a potent combination with Palko's pull-no-punches rhymes. If you're extra-squeamish, though, you might want to see if Hell's Winter has an instrumental version.



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