Bass Clef – Reeling Skullways review

Gulp, it’s happening again. Ralph Cumbers, better known as Bass Clef, has long been associated with the dubstep scene since its inception, and now he’s releasing an album of analogue 4/4 music. It’s a familiar tale that has been uttered plenty over the last year or so, with good and bad results. In the case of Bass Clef, it’s never exactly straight-forward. Even as he made his name on a rousing live set that fused dubstep weight with analogue tinkerings and in-yer-face trombone action, his output never sat quite in the same rivet that his club-ready contemporaries inhabited. There’s always been something a little more avant-garde about the Bass Clef way that employs the means of dance music, but uses them as a reference point upon which to express deeper, more esoteric ideas.

The start of this new album for Punch Drunk serves as a perfect example. Two-minute opener “Keep Hoping Machine Running” is a wonderful exercise in pure synthesiser goodness, using heavy hits, more drawn out notes and small flurries of arpeggio to draw you into a hypnagogic reverie, only to be smartly snapped out of it by the straight-up kick pattern of second track “Walworth Road Acid Trapdoor”. What begins as a decidedly linear analogue house track steadily grows into a headspace more readily associated with Artificial Intelligence-era Warp, not least through the beguiling harmony of the soft, drawn out synth notes that invade the more rhythmic parts of the track.

There’s no denying that much of the album is informed by the Chicago and Detroit building blocks, but as has always been the case since the originators, it’s what you do with these tools that counts. Reeling Skullways is a brilliant record for that reason alone, as Cumbers demonstrates just what can be achieved with a bit of imagination and one of the most enduring methods of music production in the past 30 years.

It’s interesting to note that the production slant Cumbers took, which has materialised in this album, was originally conceived as a series of singles in various places until Peverelist saw the potential for a full-length. There’s something positively challenging about tracks such as “Electricity Comes From Other Planets” which could be seen as a brave undertaking for a DJ. Presented as such in the long-player format, the wild nature of each track complements its neighbours well. What you’re left with is a satisfyingly cohesive body of work that jars the face of analogue house music in a storm of knob-twiddling tweakery and rock solid drum machine grooves.

Oli Warwick


Tracklisting:

1. Keep Hoping Machine Running
2. Walworth Road Acid Trapdoor
3. Hackney – Chicago – Jupiter
4. Embrace Disaster
5. Electricity Comes From Other Planets
6. Stenaline Metranil Solar Flare
7. A Rail Is A Road & A Road Is A River
8. Ghost Kicks In The Spiral
9. Suddenly Alone Together