Cage is starting to move away from his past and out into the world on Depart From Me, but he's just not quite there yet.
At the time of this writing, the Northeast has been shrouded in clouds and dumped on by rain for a week straight. It's fitting weather for listening to something as willfully dark as Cage's new album, Depart From Me. Cage has never been shy about facing his demons and airing grievances on record -- and he certainly has earned the right to do so with a troubled past and a discography of great albums.
So when this album starts with him tiredly mumbling through a preamble, it sounds like he's baiting you, setting you up for a break-out beat. He does when "Nothing Left to Say" kicks in with a tight, lean beat and energetic rhymes, balancing ideas of moving on from pain with the gross notion of posthumous fame, comparing them as coping devices. It's as thoughtful as it is head-nodding, and Cage mixes distorted rock elements effectively once again into a powerful chorus.
But for the most part, that is as energetic as Cage gets on Depart From Me. His venom is potent on the domestic nightmare of "Beat Kids", and he's effectively creepy on the stalker haunt "I Never Knew You". But what those songs have in common is a bit of distance between subject and artist. As Cage continues to mine his troubled past and explore his isolation now, he sounds a little tired, like the whole thing exhausts him.
That fatigue can be effective. "Katie's Song" shows the awkward scene of Cage pulled onto a club dance floor by a girl. It works because not only does it show Cage's attempts at connection -- "I'm such a misfit in social situations / I fucking hate it," he spits -- but it also skewers the absurdity of finding someone at a club in the anonymity of a dark dance floor. However, this scene is unique on the album because it puts Cage in a social situation, so we can see how alienated he is. For much of the rest of the album, he is too deep in his head. And with a slew of half-done, groaned choruses and no guests on the album to play off of, Depart From Me sounds more and more insular as it goes.
And there is also a handful of filler tracks that might break up Cage's self exploration, but it takes the record in the wrong directions. "Teenage Hands" compares young girls dating older guys with young men going off to war, saying something about how and when we want children to grow up. And "Kick Rocks" is little more than a fuck-you track, with cloying conversations with stereotypical characters serving as choruses. And though Cage claims with one track that "Fat Kids Need an Anthem", it turns out they don't -- or at least not this one.
The beats here are still solid throughout, as Cage's music proves better than most at naturally combining rock elements into hip-hop. But the uneven performances laid over it shows Cage struggling a bit in a search for new ground. After fantastic records like Hell's Winter and Movies for the Blind, in which he successfully navigated the mine field of his past -- with energy and emotion and unique deliveries to spare -- Depart From Me feels more like a transition than a record to stand on its own. The best stuff here shows Cage taking what he's learned and moving out into the world at large to figure it out in all its alienating weirdness. But the rest of the album has him revisiting roads already traveled, holding back from truly stepping out. He's moving to someplace new on Depart From Me, which is the right move for a rapper this talented. But he's just not quite there yet.