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Sixtoo - Antagonist Survival Kit

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Artist: Sixtoo

Album: Antagonist Survival Kit

Label: Vertical Form

Review date: Jun. 29, 2003

Revitalized Voice

Sixtoo is something of an enigma. Part of the late-90s Canadian indie-hop invasion with co-Sebutone Buck 65, and thrust into the at-times Jerry Springer-esque limelight that followed the anticon collective with which he has remained a collaborator, he has since the days of 1998’s Psyche Intangible and 50/50 Where it Counts stepped back into the primarily vocal-less role of an electronic musician. Or, perhaps that isn’t entirely true. Songs I hate… in 2001 was a challenging little still vocal release, but one that was a collection of odds and ends, similar to the 1999 Psyche Continuum, not a complete and self-contained album; it was more of a footnote, (despite the inclusion of “Grimey Inks the Moment,” one of the best songs that came out in ’01). Yet there he was as we fumbled into a new century, lauded in moments for his vision and artistry, his jack-of-all-trades approach to the culture of hip hop (beyond his work as an emcee and producer, he is an established DJ and visual artist), and often in the next breath dissed for his particular almost-monotonous delivery as an emcee.

Thus many fans, myself included, took his The Secrets that Houses Keep 10” (2001), then 2002’s fascinating Duration project, both instrumental, as indicative of a new direction for Sixtoo. Duration was an album that doubled as a performance art piece, with each track being recorded in, and thus connected to, a public space: a brilliant moment of something like aural graffiti. The two releases felt like the first complete post-1998 albums put out by Sixtoo, and helped define a new instrumental vision of him as an artist, easily putting him in the highest echelon of indie-hop producers, and electronic musicians, worldwide. Still, for those listeners that had enjoyed Sixtoo’s poetry on the mic, the perceived move towards a voiceless Sixtoo was a bitter accompaniment to the sweetness of that new instrumental sound.

Enter Antagonist Survival Kit, Sixtoo’s latest and greatest, on Vertical Form (the last before his much-discussed move to Ninja Tune). A collage of the two Sixtoos, one half poetic wizardry, one half instrumental mastery (literally - on the double LP, the first record has all the vocal tracks, while the second is all instrumental), Antagonist should be considered the first successful display of Sixtoo's talent both behind the boards and on the mic. Like many great artists, Sixtoo seems to have gotten better with each release, and this one is certainly no exception. Despite the double focus, the content was clearly orchestrated with a single objective in mind, and the result is astounding.

So what exactly does the music sound like, and what was that objective? It’s been said by some that this album is too simple, or too stark – I think words like lonely and bleak might be more appropriate adjectives. As a trip through one man’s urban life, or perhaps waking dream, Antagonist forces the listener to confront the acronym and ASK themselves at just what point they themselves fit in; where in this topos they might come across a dirty puddle that could throw back some distortion of their own reflection. “There’s something that I’m missing. Something inside of me.” It’s the mournful chant that opens the album and it speaks volumes, both to the alienation of 21st-century life in an urban world and to the sound of that landscape itself. Throughout Antagonist winds the subtle chords of distance and dissonance, of the recognition that even in analyzing the noise of urban life in this way one can’t help but participate in the creation of that very sound. Yet as Sixtoo snarls as on “Fear of Flying”: “Give my outlines back, I don’t exist in the plural”; it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. (It’s interesting to note that this affirmation of the first person resonates with other significant releases of the past few years – from Them to God Loves Ugly – as I’ve said before, indie-hop certainly has its obsessions.)

From the airport background drone on “Fear of Flying” to the ticker-tape scuttle of “Amphitheatre,” the sonic tapestry (laugh away, Brynn) being presented is replete with the stress and paranoia of urban living. But in fact, this album is truly less concerned with presentation than it is with re-presentation. Where Duration worked to try and tie the urban landscape directly to the music, to present the space and the sound as inextricably linked, Antagonist steps back and uses each sound – every glitch, every word, every snare – to paint a picture of that world. Ultimately, it is an experiment that is equally as successful as its predecessor, if not more. Sixtoo’s delivery, a more impassioned version of his oft-criticized monotone, has never sounded more appropriate than it does here; resigned, bitter, but still alive, his voice crackles with lonely emotion amongst the bleak sonic landscapes he has painted for himself. Much like El-P’s Fantastic Damage, or Sole’s Selling Live Water, Antagonist bleeds with the sound of a generation of glitchy and disgusted electro-poets, unsure that this kit will truly help us survive, but challenging everyone, at least for 46 minutes, to hope.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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