Reel to Real collects Liquid Liquid percussionist Dennis Young's early home recordings while a member of the pioneering New York dance band. Captured on reel-to-reel recordings, hence its (somewhat painfully cliché) title, these pieces range from random experiments to near songs that still have an endearing demo quality to them.
Unsurprisingly, many of the 16 songs that make up this collection feature heavy use of drums and percussion, and end up being the ones I found myself coming back to most. Opening "Big Boom" is literally named, all hollow and pounding drum patterns, with Young's shouty lo-fi vocals appearing as a near afterthought. His playing on "Gravitation" takes on a weirder, almost synthetic quality and timbre, with the same vocal approach.
Complex polyrhythms dot the fittingly titled "Drum Solo," pounding along with a sharp, metallic edge to the icy snare patterns. His inclusion of what sounds like bits of primitive analog synth within the patterns of "More is Less" go a long way, fleshing out what would otherwise be another, less engaging drum solo piece.
Past the drumming, Young's early experiments also heavily focused on synthesizers. The odd "Panic in the Air" sees him pairing his voice with a rapid synth sequence and more traditionally played electric organ. Uptempo keyboard arpeggios and keyboard noodling also feature heavily on "Unknown Origins," though the mix is more expansive and his inclusion of vocals give a more fully realized feel. Similar is the tight sequences and dramatic flair of "Contortions" which, while still having a loose bedroom-recorded sensibility to it, feels more like a song rather than an experiment.
Peppered throughout are some less structured, more obvious experiments that range from interesting to skippable. Something like "Overdub Dub" sticks out as an odd bit of reggae sound, filtered through the lens of post-punk to resemble the likes of PIL or The Slits but less confident. There are also a few folksy passages, such as "Aliens," which is all cheap acoustic guitar and lighthearted vocals that bear more than a passing resemblance to Genesis P-Orridge.
Approaching Reel to Real as a traditional album would be a major mistake, since it is intended to be nothing more than a collection of forgotten, closeted demos and experiments. Personally, I have always been fond of these sort of compilations. There is an exuberance and excitement within the weird noises and odd experiments that might not be something for everyday rotation, but still great to dig into when the mood strikes.