[CD Review] Clutchy Hopkins

Courtesy Ubiquity

Much has been made of the JT LeRoy-like mystery surrounding Clutchy Hopkins' identity: A MySpace page and a host of YouTube vids recall a crusty ex-Motown engineer traveling the world and making tracks, but that could just be a smokescreen for an anonymous side project of Ubiquity's Shawn Lee and Todd Simon, similar-sounding downtempo artists who receive credit on Walking Backwards. Previous output hasn't shed much light on the Clutchy Hopkins phenomenon; for every Clutchy track that surfaced heralding the project as a jazz-hop revelation, you'd be just as likely to encounter a more bumpin' track with MF Doom spitting over it.

On the whole, Walking Backwards is a quieter, more creeping album than Hopkins' earlier material would lead you to expect. Slow-burning arrangements smolder with exotic instrumentation and ear-bendingly effective playing; the banjo on "Song for Wolfie," for instance, is positively Middle Eastern. When you expect a Hammond B-3, you get an acoustic guitar; when you do hear an organ, it's as likely to suggest a calliope or have a triangle tinkling over it, all of which can make Walking Backwards sound like Roky Erickson and Yusef Lateef remaking the latter's Eastern Sounds.

While there's a familiar formula that can make lesser tracks here sound more like a live Thievery Corporation, Walking Backwards sidesteps soundtrack clichés to conjure its own incidental tension. "Rocktober," for instance, lays down a straight percussive groove peppered with sighing jazz guitar and spooky organ trills; "Good Omen" does the same with Spanish guitars to come up with a gypsy-hop hybrid; "Swap Meet at the Corner" just sounds sad, but cathartically so, knowing it's better to feel bad rather than to feel nothing at all. Thanks, Clutchy, whoever you are.

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