Blockhead: Uncle Tony's Coloring Book

Gentry Boeckel

Two artists who have released the most unassuming records of their career: Blockhead’s is a fan-only limited edition, and Sixtoo’s is a track title-less hip-hop-dub noir mix.


Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book

Label: Self-Released
US Release Date: 2007-08-14
UK Release Date: Available as import


Jackals and Vipers in Envy of Man

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2007-09-18
UK Release Date: 2007-09-10

It’s strange that these two artists have never formally worked together. They share all the same friends, work under the same broad umbrella of “underground” hip-hop and are both rap-label refugees, now under the UK based banner of Ninja Tune Records. Both have also just released the most unassuming records of their career– Blockhead’s is a fan-only limited edition, and Sixtoo’s is a track title-less hip-hop-dub noir mix.

In the liner notes for his debut solo record, Music for Cavelight, producer Blockhead bemoaned the recent attention that Kanye West was then receiving for, what many deemed, his innovative use of sped-up vocal samples. He was rightfully bitter; Blockhead has been producing (mainly with Def Jux rapper Aesop Rock) moody, sample-driven beats with, yes, lots of sped-up chipmunk sounding vocal samples since the early '90s. But his latest release, Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book is the biggest departure for Blockhead, because it doesn’t sound like something that should only be listened to after midnight. The vocal and soulful samples are still at the forefront, but instead of the catacomb-like darkness of Music for Cavelight or the urban-groove of Downtown Science, Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book is downright sprightly -- even playful. As the artwork suggests, the album finds him working with brighter sounds, forgoing the “depressing shit” (as he puts it) to get his bounce on.

Released almost simultaneously with Aesop Rock’s latest release, None Shall Pass, Coloring Book is largely a companion piece to that record. Although self-released, and although only available for a limited time, Coloring Book doesn’t sound half-assed. As on his past releases, Blockhead is assisted by longtime collaborator Damien Paris on guitar. DJ Signify, who has similar underground hip-hop connections with Sage Francis and Buck 65, does guest scratching on a handful of tracks as well. Some of the tracks fall apart due to too many ideas -- “Not So OK Corral” is disjointed, and many of the samples-as-choruses are too far-reaching, just barely matching the song’s melody.

Sixtoo on the other hand, eschews traditional pop melody for overall mood. One of those refreshingly frustrating artists, Sixtoo has been ever-slowly shedding his golden-age roots with sample-less and non-electronic beats. 2004’s Chewing on Glass & Other Miracle Cures was recorded entirely with live instrumentation. Jackals and Vipers is made up of reworked elements originally used in Sixtoo’s live sets. It is intended as a suite broken up into 13 movements, all untitled. Sixtoo’s strength has always been his percussion, and on Jackals the drums and bass are placed high in the mix, with his tape-edits sounding downright noirish with their dub-like reverb. Jackals' greatest strength (or weakness) is its consistency -- its ability to sink into the background.

The biggest difference between the two records is Blockhead’s over-reliance on vocal samples to structure his songs. Sixtoo is more indebted to the less pop-centered electronica and dub traditions of ebb and flow. Both records attempt to break from each artist's usual typecasting: Blockhead as the vocal sample-driven sad sap, Sixtoo as the Sage Francis producer and sometimes MC. Thus, both are relative successes at being downright stubborn: the usually rap-happy Sixtoo won’t let a single MC grace Jackals and Vipers, and Blockhead at times seems hesitant at trying to sound so jubilant, but forces it anyway. Both records are nice, if unimportant, diversions for artists who are at least trying to ward off stagnation.

Sixtoo - Recording Jackals






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.