Since he first emerged back in 2004 under his Dubmatix alias with his debut album ‘Champion Sound Clash’, Toronto-based dub / reggae producer Jesse King has remained a prolific figure, releasing no less than seven albums in the intervening years alongside a veritable slew of seven inches. This latest collection on Hamburg reggae label Echo Beach ‘Overdubbed’ represents something of a dream come true for King, with the Groove Attack label giving him free rein to work with a pile of original Sly and Robbie master tapes (pretty much the rhythm section’s version of a holy grail).
For the most part, King’s focused on reducing the original elements right down to bass and drums, before building things from the ground up, adding horns, electronics and enlisting the skills of an impressive cast of guest vocalists. While he’s certainly been respectful towards Sly and Robbie’s original performances, it’s King’s highly eclectic production approach that really perks the interest factor here, shifting from trip-hop and downbeat electronics through to more classic reggae and dancehall influences.
It’s something that perhaps calls to mind the similarly non-Catholic approach to dub-laced electronics fashioned by the likes of Leftfield and even the G-Stone anchored digi-dub scene of late nineties Vienna. ‘Communication Breakdown’ places Jay Spaker’s angelic ragga-soul falsetto against a finely detailed backdrop of muted bass runs, layered wood-block percussion and bright organ keys that practically inhales and exhales with a sense of effortless flow, while King deploys subtly-placed dub FX to scatter all manner of stereo eye-openers at the very edges of the heaving mix.
‘Dictionary’ meanwhile offers a far more armour-plated wander through crunching hiphop beats and overdriven bass drops, the gnarled dubstep bass buzzes injecting a sinister robotic undertone as Sly Dunbar’s original drum breaks kick and scatter against dubbed-out MC vocal samples and sheeny synth arpeggiation. ‘Burru Saturday’ gets more futuristic, sending a sub-bass pulse rippling against broken off-step rhythms and 4/4 kicks, while phased synths glide against echoing horn samples and buzzing powerline zaps, in what’s easily one of this album’s most streamlined, dub-house kissed moments.
Elsewhere, ‘Smoothie’ adds a horn section reminiscent of The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ to Robbie Shakespeare’s heaving bassline, while Megative, Prince Alla and Screechy Dan lay on the lovers rock vibes, their intertwining harmonies soaring against eerie xylophone melodies and steely percussion fills. All in all, ‘Overdubbed’ sees Dubmatix fashioning a version of Sly And Robbie’s original tracks that feels respectful and adventurous at the same time, with one foot planted in roots dub and the other in the future.