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Sixtoo - Chewing on Glass and Other Miracle Cures

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Artist: Sixtoo

Album: Chewing on Glass and Other Miracle Cures

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Jul. 12, 2004

Anyone who's tried to follow Robert "Sixtoo" Squire's career has had a hell of a time. With a discography that spans nearly 10 years and two dozen releases, not to mention a plethora of collaborations as both producer and emcee, Sixtoo has etched his name into hip hop and electronic music the way all musicians should: The hard way.

His association with the Anticon collective at times pigeonholed him as "emo-hop," a term that gets thrown around much to the chagrin of all those involved, yet his growing catalog of work clearly shows a level of unparalleled growth and musical ingenuity far beyond that type of classification. With influences as far spread as Can, Curtis Mayfield, and Sea & Cake, Sixtoo takes every ounce of inspiration and makes it his own, a quality vital for the sample-based demands of hip hop, and increasingly, electronic music.

He has always been seen as a brilliant producer, but there's an obvious passion for poetry, too; finding the balance between the two has been constant struggle. Earlier releases generally saw a focus on his lyrics, while more recent offerings like The Secret That Houses Keep 10" and the Duration project were purely instrumental and largely interpreted as new directions in Sixtoo's musical vision.

Last year's Antagonist Survival Kit released on the Vertical Form label was his most fully realized album. One part instrumental showcase, one part filtered poetics, presented perhaps for the first time in cohesive equilibrium. It was certainly a pinnacle of work, but Chewing On Glass and Other Miracle Cures tops it. Sixtoo's first release for Ninja Tune is his most advanced offering to date, a sack full of highly orchestrated beats that perhaps moves him into the category of composer rather than producer, if there can be such a distinction.

As much as hip hop purists have sworn by sampling, many have either become too lazy or frustrated by the limitations to rely solely on sampling methods, and it wouldn't be out of the question to assume Sixtoo has found himself in the latter category. In fact, it's hard to picture him making a sample-based album better than 2001's Duration. Chewing on Glass features Sixtoo employing the talent of various musicians, including himself – chopped, filtered, glitched, and arranged to his liking. The results are highly sophisticated and complex, almost simulating the lush organics of a six-piece jazz ensemble.

There are only three vocal pieces on the entire album – two by Sixtoo and "Storm Clouds & Silver Linings" featuring Can's Damo Suzuki, one of Sixtoo's most radical pieces. As welcomed as these additions are – in fact, Suzuki's contributions are pretty darn great – the emphasis on vocals keep things relatively uncluttered in comparison to the deeply layered instrumentals.

"The Honesty of Constant Human Error" is the album's crowning achievement. A dream of a jam session held together by riveting drum progressions and shadowed by the hypnotic guitar playing of Mike Catano, the track convincingly creates tension and climax, all properly segueing into resolution. For the first time he reveals the recording process in the liner notes, and although it tends to read like a music nerd's diary, you can't help but feel the level of passion and intricacy that fuels Sixtoo's music.

His experimentations on this album show no signs of amateurism, and the totality of the listening experience knows no type of musical classification. Like the title suggests, there's an unsettling tone throughout and a harshness that compounds the entire experience. These are his dreams, nightmares, accomplishments, hopes, failures, and fears.

And they are all beautiful.

By Brian Ho

Other Reviews of Sixtoo

Antagonist Survival Kit

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Find out more about Ninja Tune

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