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Clutchy Hopkins meets Lord Kenjamin - Music is My Medicine

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Artist: Clutchy Hopkins meets Lord Kenjamin

Album: Music is My Medicine

Label: Ubiquity

Review date: Jun. 17, 2009

Clutchy Hopkins, who may or may not be a well-known west coast DJ, has had a few previous outings of turntablist groove, without any particular reggae feel. Here, he’s joined by the equally undocumented Lord Kenjamin, and together they’ve made an album of electronic dub that’s got the ragged feel of the real early stuff. As Hopkins "meets" Kenjamin in the billing, it’s a tip off that they’ll be working in the mode of dub founders like Augustus Pablo, Yabby You, King Tubby and Lee Perry. Turns out, it’s Pablo who looms largest here.

Augustus Pablo is always name checked in dub history, but his influence hasn’t been as pervasive as his peers. He took the plastic tone of the melodica, and hearing a reedy expressiveness, made it a serious instrument. Sure, he comes up any time that toy keyboard-flute is put to use. But early platters like "Pretty Baby" and "Dub Organizer" are self-contained, taut little compositions. There’s plenty of spaciness to them, but not the expansive haze that’s come to define dub the adjective, as opposed dub the Jamaican style.

Music is My Medicine has got melodica, but moreover, it shares the concise plans of Pablo’s instrumentals. It doesn’t kick off in Black Ark mode: the opener has the flute and classical guitar of Hopkins’ previous retro funk, and with the wordless chanting that starts the second track, it seems like the album could be headed toward hackysack highlight territory. But hold out for the first break – it veers into the skank the pervades the rest of the record. Like Pablo, the rhythms stay Jamaican while exotic riffs drift by – "Turtle Rock" has an electric guitar that wobbles through the whole thing, playing the off-beat wlhile working though a bunch of Guitar Hero exercises. Mostly, though, the songs seem sample-based. They’re long samples, held long enough that cymbal crashes can decay.

It makes for an interesting contrast with dubstep. As natural as the beats feel, there’s still a digital stiffness, a satisfying limbo between old and new tones. "Cold and Wet" kicks off with a foreboding organ, the kind of noise that fills up the space between Burial’s beats. Clutchy’s beats are hand claps, just as sparse and languorous. But they’re still hand claps, and there’s something innately personable about them that even Arabian scales can’t darken. Bubbling basslines are exposed as frigid keyboard patches when other backing falls away. "Shadowfish" makes a bed of glitchy malfunctions, but the melody of a Peanuts soundtrack floats on top. It fades in and fades out to the squeal of the playground swing.

That noise sums up what makes Music is My Medicine hang together. It’s friendly. It’s stark.

Ed. note: Dusted was eventually contacted by someone involved with the making of the record, reporting that "it is not sample based and all instruments were played by the artists" Such are the perils of being a shadowy underground producer.

By Ben Donnelly

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