There's a stripped-down quality to this latest outing from Magic + Dreams head Ralph Cumbers under the Bass Clef name that stems from the London-based producer's decision to adopt a ‘no samples' policy and shape the nine tracks' textures and rhythms using modular analogue synthesis. The hour-long collection covers a number of bases, including acid and dubstep, but feels rooted most of all in classic Chicago house and Detroit techno; one of the release's strong points is how deftly it integrates all such styles into a singular cosmic whole that feels natural and uncontrived. The album title was inspired by the writings of Brian Aldiss, whose short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” became the basis for Steven Spielberg's A.I., which offers some preliminary hint of the music's head-spinning qualities.
That the album isn't only a beats-based affair is shown by the fact that its framing tracks, “Keep Hoping Machine Running” and “Ghost Kicks In The Spiral,” keep the focus squarely on shimmering keyboards, the latter doing so especially beautifully in a neo-classical kind of way. That point having been made, Reeling Skullways gets down to business with “Walworth Road Acid Trapdoor,” a Detroit-styled, acid-techno slammer that Cumbers trippily tricks out with gunshot claps, fluttering synths, and body-shaking rhythms. The even more acidy “Hackney - Chicago - Jupiter” and jacking “Suddenly Alone Together” likewise catch one's ear with their twisted synth treatments and slinky, hard-driving grooves. A more painterly side of Bass Clef comes to the fore during “Stenaline Metranil Solar Flare,” a surprisingly graceful tour through sci-fi dub territory where stars radiantly twinkle and minimal bass lines pulsate. Towering over everything else, however, is the coup de grace “A Rail is a Road & a Road is a River,” a twelve-minute plunge that swells from an opening prog episode into a rave-ready forcefield of echo-drenched beats and synthetic blaze. Though cheeky, tongue-in-cheek titles keep the album from getting too serious (e.g., “Keep Hoping Machine Running”), Cumbers is clearly serious about the tracks themselves. While no trail-blazer necessarily, Reeling Skullways offers a generous supply of pleasures for those with an appetite for heady bass music.