The first piece I wrote was in response to a playlist created to vent anger to: 'F*** Everything and Get Angry', which acknowledged and discussed a recent release by New York rapper Cage, and was due to be published at the end of January:
As our Tamsyn rightly said within Bring the Noise’s recent pent-up peevishness playlist, this month has gone down as a bad one; January has sucked. What a pessimistic way to open this article, but for myself being portrayed as the egotist, this has held unfortunately true, and I have found myself feeling miserable, filled to the brim with passive and often volatile anger. However, with the unveiling of our website’s latest playlist, a song instantly raced to the forefront of my mind and began tapping away.
Whilst it may not be entirely appropriate to sit alongside the fast-paced and aggressive natured likes of Limp Bizkit or Slipknot, Cage’s ‘You Were the S*** (In High School)’ is a song that deserves recognition within this month’s theme, but also the attention of the general public. I can imagine several faces reading that last sentence in a state of bewilderment, but also conceivably a select few cheaply smiling and nodding in agreement – for despite being a part of the hip-hop world for twenty years now, Cage is relatively unknown.
Perhaps the playlist featuring two Glassjaw songs paid dividends (I did argue that ‘Pretty Lush’ deserved a spot); several years ago a simple Wikipedia search of icon Daryl Palumbo saw me discover that Palumbo featured in a song entitled ‘Shoot Frank’ from Cage’s 2005 sophomore record, Hell’s Winter. Thereafter intrigued, and later intoxicated on his labor, I was hooked on the works of Chris Palko.
As my addition continued, so did Cage’s curriculum vitae, to the extent of collaborating with superstar Kid Cudi on his record Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager (2010), seeing him assist a performance on America’s Saturday Night Live and learning French to co-star in a ten minute short horror film to accompany the song, ‘Maniac’, sharing its name - written by Shea LaBeouf (who also directed and starred in Cage’s own hit ‘I Never Knew You’); just another member of the Cardboard City artist circle he is a part of.
The now close friend of Marilyn Manson even once having a feud with the then up-and-coming rapper Eminem in the late nineties about imitating, or rather commandeering, his style and subject matter (there’s some kind of subtle-lyric rap battle video up on YouTube you can watch). As a result, Eminem went in a more commercialised direction and we know where that got him, whilst our unsung hero remained the same, resulting in him “laying on [an] airbed at Sean Martin’s, bleeding and starving” (‘I Found My Mind In Connecticut’, Depart From Me, 2009) – quite the opposite to having an elevator in one’s mansion.
However, I will now cease with the name-dropping for the sake of expressing how varied this gentleman’s ties are; showing you what cloths he is sewn into – I have digressed too much, and enough with the introduction.
After a terrible day at work (yeah, but when is it good?), I get in my car and travel roughly five yards before I am welcomed by the thick of stand-still traffic; it’s dark out and the radiance of the street lights are the only thing that illuminate the road up ahead with an orange tinge as they cascade through branches and leafs of the surviving winter trees, that and the glare of some full-beam headlights in my mirrors coming from the prick behind me. So, I switch from listening to the radio to my iPod, and the decent begins.
With an aperture of delicate yet grim piano composition sitting above a bassed-up drone, I find myself slipping into a dream-like state, to almost another disturbing reality before the archetypal beat kicks in, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it makes me think of ‘My December’ by Linkin Park if nothing else. With a sprinkle of eeriness and gloom, the introduction becomes infectious and whirls around my head, creeping up when I least expect it. In a one-sided exchange of words, a conversation erupts:
“We use the same planet, we breathe the same air
We piss yellow and bleed red, we don't care
Worship the same sun until it falls in the sea
And the moon pops up to light up our debauchery
You wanna’ pave the way, I ain't trying to follow
You think it’s really deep, because you're fucking hollow
You wanna’ be the king, I wanna’ overthrow one
I got grown man balls, you really need to grow some
You wear a lot of hoodies, I wear a lot of flannel
You wanna’ change the game, I wanna’ change the channel
You read what I've accomplished, I read a lot comics
I write a lot of music, you write a lot of comments
You sniff coke, I smoke weed
I get the munchies and pass out, you stay up with nose bleeds
I'm looking forward to the future, while you hate it all
I wouldn't go back if I could, but you would trade it all”
Without any doubt, ‘You Were the S*** (In High School)’ certainly is my song of the month, where through the medium of sound, Cage exhibits his unnatural talent and equips me with the ability and tact to vent this suppressed anger, and release my endorphins through smugness and head-bops. Within the first verse (above), there are so many lines you can pick out and adore, and wish to quote yourself, or ones you can find yourself relating to; I had to include the whole verse really – to do the defence of this song justice, but also because it all is golden, albeit simple, unpoetic word play… Bar the lines “Worship the same sun until it falls in the sea, and the moon pops up to light up our debauchery” which cleverly depicts the nature that although we place faith into whatever spirituality we commit to, at night we (even Cage) self indulge in our own dirty pleasures regardless.
Another stand-out line for me within the verse is Cage’s dig at the narcissism social media has created within us: “You think it’s really deep, because you're fucking hollow”. A line that truly reflects how needless, and often misquoted, phrases are thrown around the internet in order to better ones worth and attempt to be perceived by peers as something more – it hits the nail on the head. It aids his rant, and helps back up his committed statement. I can definitely see myself quoting this in an argument at some stage in the future.
His hazy, dark and yet aesthetically pleasing imagery concocted by a bitter yet lethal tongue and sharp withholds a strong opinion, but of course the main question now on my lips is who is he talking about?
Is this a dig at someone in his life? Present or past? Is it to the jock stereotype at high school? Has he been harbouring these views all these years since his own youth? Or is it a dig at his listeners; an exaggeration of the target audience for hip-hop? Or is this in-fact a personal, inner-battle? A face-off with his past; the Chris Palko of ten years ago? Like his music, is he showing his evolution by juxtaposing his old life with his new to showcase the stark contrast and portray himself in a new light; an adaptation of his previous album Depart From Me (2009), which was in reference to Matthew 7:22-23:
“Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’
And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Cage is trying to express how he has cast out his inner-demons from yesteryear and he is this new person, he no longer needs to records vocals drunk in the booth, and he is content with his life and new(ish) direction. The dialogue pitches the idea that this rival ego takes over-the-top highs and stays up all night, nursing a bloody nose because they live an empty life, whilst Cage smokes at home and eats what he enjoys because he has his life figured out. He wants to smoke his marijuana and live in peace: “I just want to medicate, meditate and make it slow”.
Unfortunately, this vindication makes me think about my life; and my desire to go out to clubs and drink because I don’t know what else to do with my weekends – to fill that empty void. He’s got a reaction out of me, and it’s an eye-opener, and ultimately now something that I want to try and change. But anyway, ‘You Were the S*** (In High School)’ is the sixth track off Cage’s latest 2013 release, Kill the Architect. It wasn’t promoted as a single, or previewed to the public prior the album’s release like ‘The Hunt’, with its macabre lyrics and ‘Lebanese Blonde’ styled beat (which is excellent by the way), but nonetheless stands out significantly.
This latest record is mature, open, lyrically structured and less convoluted, more on-the-mark, and essentially one big personal middle finger to the music industry, and in his own words, “an exorcism of sorts”. It accurately portrays Cage's development as an artist and encapsulates his whole career. Throughout Kill the Architect, he's basically complaining and solemn at the same time; the music meshes and is intrinsically woven together creating a confusing and almost haunting listen, yet worthwhile, for although I find myself dismissive of a lot of the record’s content, this song for me is it’s silver lining and saving grace.
I don’t know if any of this analysis is in-fact true, rather simply my own interpretation of the song, and what I’ve mentally gathered over several listens, combined with my previous knowledge of the artist himself – but I believe that alone is the ultimate selling point for any music lover; here is a (good) song that makes you think, and above is a description of the picture I have painted, in which I now urge you to check out this song, and raise your own questions.
All I’m trying to say at the end of the day is that here is a song that I like, and I think that you other jaded individuals will like it too. If you’re stressed or angry, but want to chill out instead, sit back and put this on. Hopefully this may also be enough to distract you through the remaining days until payday. Hopefully.
The second piece I wrote was to be published on, or before, Valentine's Day, in response to the playlist we created 'Baby Making Music'; my aim was to engage with other sense and emotions not often associated with the tradition, praising the penmanship and passion of the now defunct hardcore outfit Killing the Dream:
I’m sure not everything I write will be in response to a playlist Bring the Noise’s Tamsyn puts out, but with her selection of Valentine’s Day delights, I noticed something missing (and quite rightly so)… Heavy music. The chug of a bass, blast of a drum and strung-out distortion of a drop-E electric guitar really is not a welcoming sound come the 14th February, but what happens if the listener looks past the music and (hoping that you do the same when finding a lover) looks for the beauty within?
I know of a song that I hold dear to me, keep the words close to my heart, and cherish it’s poetic language greatly (albeit grammatically incorrect at the best of times) which I consider a greater love song than a lot of radio-friendly ballads you’ll come across on BBC Radio 2 this Friday – a song, however, that Chris Evans would never, ever have grace his playlist. Besides, the git will probably be moping about still lamenting his break-up with Billie Piper on the Feast of Saint Valentine.
In the summer of 2008, little-known Californian quintet Killing the Dream released their sophomore record, Fractures, and on it, embellished as the penultimate track was a diamond which they decided to call ‘Holding the Claws’.
A record crammed with blistering hardcore, the band took their formulaic metallic hardcore approach and evolved within it. Or rather, they had to. Following their debut, two key members left, including their main song-writer/composer. Vocalist and lyricist Elijah Horner (who will be the main focus of this article, as I am looking at more-so at the words and their meaning rather than anything else) recalled to Scene Point Blank about the experience, “it was definitely an intimidating task to find someone who could take over for him in that department”. But surely the greater challenge was Horner’s own development and how he would adapt to the changes; on writing the lyrics, he said: “for Fractures I waited until we had all the songs recorded because I really wanted it to flow and for the songs to fit each other”.
It was as if the band were reincarnated the instant they began to make a name for themselves… As a result, hidden and so well blended in the record amidst ‘Thirteen Steps’ and ‘Resolution’, in the grips of true artistic progression, features a song that’s inspiring and passionate, embodying nothing but positive emotion, interjecting with hints of melody. ‘Holding the Claws’ juxtaposes against all other songs that carry sad and angry narratives, that are visceral in approach, aggressive and blunt with rage and hate, to expose penmanship that is, quite simply, boldly crafted eloquence.
The well-executed build-up at the beginning is slow and methodical; it’s the calm before the storm of a scintillating and transcendent mess:
“Don't know what I would have to write about if there wasn’t you
Or if I ever would have wrote at all
They said it wouldn't last, nothing ever does
But you and me, we're different, always were
Stuck together forever, whatever that will mean
Everything is still all wrong, and we're still all that's real
(The only thing that's ever been)
The only words I’ve ever meant
Was when I said I’d do anything for you
See, our claws stretch deep inside, and that's where they'll stay
You say you're lucky you have me
But I had nothing before you had me
Nothing to care about, and no songs to sing
I've seen the world singing songs about you
(The only story I could ever tell right)
We said we'd see the world, you gave it to me
So we're stuck together forever
You and me
Stuck together forever
No matter what that means”
The passionate lyrics Killing the Dream share are often about lost love that come off as insightful instead of clichéd; but here, they sing of love found, and it comes across like a poem rather than a song, even when you take into consideration the structures surrounding hardcore songs and their lyrics – it has a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying, natural end.
Starting with “Don't know what I would have to write about if there wasn’t you, or if I ever would have wrote at all” is no doubt a flattering line to hear if things song was written about you, opening with the meaning for the song; Horner is saying what without ‘you, none of this would exist, and none of this would be possible, which he carries on later by stating “I've seen the world singing songs about you […] We said we'd see the world, you gave it to me”. This is a marvellous play on words, and a greatly literary device which’ll give your stomach butterflies. Thanks to this individual, the band is where they are and they were given the chance to tour the world because the public related to something Horner wrote about ‘them’. He turns the lovers eloping ideology on its head in style.
Also, by saying “The only story I could ever tell right” in the middle of that declaration, he’s being insecure and bashful, overwhelmed by the impact his lover has on him; he’s reverted back to that innocent, child-like state by indicating he messes up a lot, but thanks to ‘you’ I can do something right, and it’s about ‘you’, I want to do ‘you’ proud, are ‘you’ now proud of me? It’s quite sweet really.
Other phrases such as “we're still all that's real”, “I’d do anything for you” and “I had nothing before you had me” are all quite common in expression, but work as good foundations for building around the vivid imagery this song creates. When Horner erupts with “See, our claws stretch deep inside, and that's where they'll stay” during a segment with little music to accompany, listeners’ hairs stand on end. The song suddenly takes a dark turn, bringing in macabre imagery and ultimately a unique selling point – which pays tribute to the creativity and black tones associated with heavier music.
The electrically charged atmosphere Horner creates with his emotion from the line “So we’re stuck together forever” onwards induces awe; from that point, the song explodes as a shrapnel filled musical force to a chaotic end. Looking at the title, it’s like a play on traditional wedding vows, the whole ‘for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’ stint, this is ‘the sickness’ (shut up, Disturbed fans) – the claw represents the darker side of a relationship that artists tend not to approach (with admiration and positively, mind you). It sinks in that these words must be true, and carry merit; Horner is holding on tight to the grotesque – in it till the very end. That thought sinks into my core and brings further dimension and depth to the song.
And, although these words may overlap (they do), this track is nothing but honest, sincere, heart-felt, and genuine – key words when describing a hit love song; vital and crucial to its everlasting effect on the brain (chemicals an’ all that, innit – love’s got nuttin’ to do with the heart – I read that on UberFacts – but I’ll still use the analogy of the heart to be cute).
Their record label founder and owner Jacob Bannon (of Converge) stated ‘Holding the Claws’ “showcase[d] the band's ongoing creative evolution”, proving that you can progress and mature within the hardcore world without ever having to leave it behind, “even the most jaded of listeners appreciate and praise them as their new hardcore heroes in the making”.
Influenced by the likes of Stay Gold and American Nightmare, Horner’s throat sears with raspy tones as he unravels personal thoughts through introspective lyrics with ferocious desperation to buddy-up with the unorthodox, intense heaviness of the band’s frequent tempo and tone changes. One thing that strikes me is how the likes of those bands became so dominant and loved – not only could they put on an unforgettable live performance, but success was also due to their emotional lyrics. So it’s now interesting to see how much a band from years before can mould future generations on every aspect; it’s not just about the music anymore.
“It's all just things I've felt and things I've gone through. I think most people go through the same things”, Horner recalled shortly before their disbandment in 2011, “I just wrote songs I felt and hopefully there are people that can identify with them”. And that’s been prevalent with me ever since my first listen of ‘Holding the Claws’. But this hold true also with many other songs: how well do the words communicate with me? It depicts whether or not they stick and make that everlasting impression… It’s then you know that you’ve found a good egg. Like with a lover you connect with on all levels, only then you know you’ve found ‘the one’.
Note: If you get dumped on (or just before) Valentine’s, I’m sorry to hear that. I advise listening to other tracks on Fractures such as ‘Fractures’, ‘Thirty Four Seconds’ and ‘Resolution’ to help you through this transitional period.