Bass Clef has always been one of the more interesting artists walking the London/Bristol bass axis, and this debut album for Peverelist’s Punch Drunk label only confirms this further. For those in a tl;dr frame of mind, let me tell you right now “Reeling Skullways” is a total trip.
The nine-track album reminds me a lot of the recent King Britt outing on Hyperdub, in fact, thanks in no small part to the analogue machines that were used to produce it and the jamming/editing approach to the compositions. Where King Britt went quite far out with his Hyperdub 12”, Bass Clef keeps things tighter and more focused, though just as pleasantly warm and hypnotic.
“Reeling Skullways” is not the sort of release you can easily dip in and out of, with cuts pre-engineered for the dance floor. It’s an immersive listen that’s best appreciated from start to finish with some big ol’ headphones on your head or a sizeable set of speakers at hand. Not that some of the tracks can’t be taken out of their place and put into the mix, but to get the most of it you really need to just let yourself be enveloped by it all. There is a sense of cohesion and continuity throughout that creates a beautiful, bouncy narrative, one that links Detroit with Bristol, Chicago with East London – as Bass Clef hints at in some of the track titles. “Walworth Road Acid Trapdoor”, for example, is all lush 4x4 kicks to the temple laced with a hypnotic bass line and pads washing around the edges, building slowly and steadily until you find yourself lost in an acid haze.
The way Bass Clef builds the tracks and plays with expectations of tension and release is the album’s greatest strength. No doubt born of the modes of production, there is a certain quality to the tracks on “Reeling Skullways” that invites you to slow down and lose yourself in the music rather than consume it in what has become our typical ADD mode of functioning. This is also due to the aforementioned Chicago and Detroit influences, with Bass Clef reaching back to a time where a six or eight-minutes-plus track meant taking people on a carefully constructed journey rather than just slapping a bunch of drops and baiting listeners with obvious tropes.
As such, picking out specific tracks for deconstruction seems beyond the point with this album. There isn’t a single moment of disappointment as long as you’re willing to give Bass Clef the keys and let yourself be taken on a cosmic journey of machine-soul, as the press release says. The machine-soul mention is particularly on target. “Reeling Skullways” very much feels like a man/machine hybrid at its most powerful. I can picture Bass Clef hidden behind an array of gear, twisting and twiddling, hitting keys, overseeing drum machines, all the while bobbing his head and body along, with the result projected through a mass of speakers to an audience lost in a beautiful musical daze.
And that is why you should make room for “Reeling Skullways” in your life right now. Easily one of the stand-out albums of the year as far as bass whatever is concerned.