Bass Clef – Reeling Skullways

Bass Clef, Cosph Jonrad, Some Truths, ‘matey with the trombone’, half of Ekoclef or Ralph Cumbers... Whatever you want to call him it’s nigh on impossible to pin him down to one genre. His music has been called, amongst other things, Dubstep, ‘stupid’ and the dreaded ‘Electronica’ But such tags are only there for convenience and do little to describe his musical output. Cumbers has a magical way of making very rigid music-making machines sound human. Sometimes they weep, sometimes laugh and sometimes appear deep in thought. Whatever emotions you experience while listening to his 4th album, his vision and creativity draws these feelings, out of the circuit board packed boxes, translates them into sound and puts them straight down onto his favourite medium - cassette tape. None of the convenience of Maschine or Ableton or any other studio gadgets, there’s not a computer screen in sight... this is just about as raw as it gets. When all this is taken into consideration, you quickly realize the depth of album you are about to dive into. His dizzying output is hard to keep track of especially, for those without a tape deck. Last year saw a stream of cassette releases on his own Magic & Dreams label as well as several tapes under his ‘Some Truths’ moniker, these were crafted entirely on his Doepfer modular synth system, doing away with any samples that were a staple part of his earlier work. This period of hyper activity also led him to collaborate with fellow analog fiend Ekoplekz on the ‘Ekoclef’ collaboration tape, once again no samples feature here so it comes as little surprise to hear that ‘Reeling Skullways’ is also sample-free. The forlorn opening chords of ‘Keep Hoping Machine Running’ part way, exposing the highly saturated colours of the acid bathed arp behind them - a short introduction that sets the scene for the album as a whole. No sooner has the synth from the opening movement dissipated then we are greeted by the familiar thud of a 4x4 kick drum. The roots of ‘Reeling Skullways’ are clearly in House and Techno music, his love for which he made clear in a previous interview with Tape-Echo (link at the bottom of the page) but this is far from a tepid re-hashing of old sounds and formulas. Broad, sweeping arcs of colour open up over the playful landscape of ‘Walworth Acid Trapdoor’ easing the listener into the realm of House, albeit at its wonkiest and most left of center. The gapless transitions between tracks really convey the feeling of the album being a whole experience, a trip. There's no doubt that a lot of care went into the order of the tracks on here, there is a constant ebb and flow of energy. At times you feel almost overpowered by the boisterousness of the synthesisers. “Hackney - Chicago - Jupiter’ is blasted into outer space with such ferocity that the nuts and bolts holding it together shear off, leaving the superstructure twisted out of shape from the heat coming off the lead melody. Fortunately it survives re-entry and plunges the listener into the depths of Chi-town for the skittle vodka fueled funk of ‘Embrace Disaster’. Midway through the journey, ‘Electricity Comes From Other Planets,’ reveals Cumbers at his most unhinged on the album. The deceivingly slow pace of the drums is juxtaposed by the arc-eye inducing stabs that build up to a hypercolour crescendo that washes away to the bare bones of the track before ending. It has to be said that while each piece works very well together in album format, they are also a lot of fun in the mix. The most DJ friendly cuts are, thankfully split across 2 heavyweight and loud 12”s rather than insincerely shoehorned onto a single flimsy plate as seems to be the norm now. Metallic hits and almost comically wobbly bass make up the bulk of ‘Stenaline Metranil Solar Flare’, a welcome breather and a chance to prepare for the epic and stand out track.‘A Rail Is A Road And A Road Is A River’ sees the album at its woosiest, a drawn out melody is propelled by the most Punch Drunk of drum patterns. As the delays on the snares crash away and crystalline arpeggios glisten at spectacular heights in the mix, it becomes clear why this album feels so at home here - Punch Drunk has always been a home for the more left of center productions coming out of Bristol and this is one of the finest to date, machine music filled with empathy and emotion right down to the marrow of each track. Reeling Skullways is like a late night link up with that special someone, that walk along the empty streets that you don’t want to end... The album draws to a close with the beatless ‘Ghost Kicks In The Spiral’, a melancholic movement that marks the end of the road, the end of the journey, having taken you to ecstatic heights and blue lows, it slowly returns you to the monochrome tedium of the world outside, leaving you with a hazy glow, desperate for your next chance to revisit it. Out now on Punch Drunk