The BellRays and Discovering Music in 2002

Sep 21, 2021 · 970 words · 5 minute read

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"There's no accounting for taste" and "there's no justice" are unrevealing truisms, and something The BellRays almost certainly don't care about, but are probably as close to an explanation for the sad fact that they are not household names, as you're going to get.

They've released twelve albums, been on multiple labels, done endless tours; all driven by the core duo of Lisa Kekaula and Rob Vennum, pushed by some inexplicable power, which may just be the knowledge that the music they create is genuinely, unpretentiously, great, and that it needs to keep being made, played, lived.

Kekaula's voice is awesome, and given the power of the music and the amazing stage presence, I don't understand how a skinny hip wiggling English grammar school boy with nasal whine and his band can sell out stadiums, but the BellRays are known by relatively few.

Since 1990 the BellRays have been creating their superior mix of rock'n'roll, soul, jazz, funk, punk and anything else they please in a timeless mix that's both new and grounded. It's this element which makes their music timeless and not linked to various trends that have come and gone.

So before we get to the tangent, there's no succinct punchline to this post can correct this oversight on the part of the universe, only the hope that now you know who BellRays are, and that they are very much worth your time, you take the chance to listen to them. If, and you should, you like what you hear, then buy as much of their music as you can, buy their merchandise and see them if they tour near you, so they can carry on being awesome.

Now back to our regularly scheduled tangent: I first heard the BellRays on a CD 'mixtape' (as confusing a metaphor as you can find) published with Kerrang!1 magazine issue 900 in, as the internet reliably informs me, 2002.

This CD was compiled by The Hives, and for what I would probably have normally considered a pretty throw away gesture in the form of a free CD on the front of a magazine, features a fine selection of music. Today no-one would go to the effort of printing CDs, it would just be an over-long2 Spotify playlist or similar.

From the track listing you can see a strong lean towards (Garage) rock and punk, some of it move eclectic that others. It took me a long time to figure out if Bobby Conn was being serious on United Nations or not, especially as at the time the internet didn't have the breadth of coverage it does now.

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Slow Death by the Flaming Groovies was another favourite, second only to the BellRays more contemplative Blue Cirque, which sits on the slower side of their repertoire, and perhaps because of that stands out in this collection of otherwise closely related bands. Of course all these songs pre-date the mini post-punk revival that was happing (or being manufactured, depending how you look at it), and showed how much superior the older material was.

This doesn't mean there wasn't good music being released, 2002 saw the release of albums like Against Me!'s Reinventing Axl Rose, Idlewild's The Remote Part and Mclusky Do Dallas but these weren't included in the breathless excitement around another 'wave' of music.

So having something that is recommended that you could actually listen to, instead of just reading about was very valuable3. Yes, you could torrent these things as MP3s, but you didn't have the same methods of discovery and social sharing, which is really what sets Spotify apart from torrenting (or other streaming services for that matter). Plenty of people would torrent vast amounts of music, but with no recommendations, or ways in, wouldn't listen to any of it because they didn't know where to start. Also if you wanted new stuff, it was easy to find, but older things required people to carefully rip their parent's CD collection, and wasn't quiet as easy to come by.

Finally, here's a fun exercise; pick your favourite Best of 2002 list, and see which albums you think still hold up now.


1

For those not familiar with Kerrang! (the ! is silent), it is a weekly UK music magazine covering rock, punk, hardcore and metal genres. I've always felt that it tries to look much more 'metal' than it is, and the contents covers a much wider range than that, even if the covers stories were very flavour of the month. In the early 2000s it was trying to figure out just how much it had really liked nu-metal once it was clear that the genre was in decline, even if it helped to grow the magazine's audience past that of its main weekly rival NME, and if it should jump on the "new rock revolution" that the NME was busy inventing, to cover up an otherwise uninspired collection of releases that year. In the long run it didn't stop the decline and by 2018 Kerrang! was the only one left standing thanks to its ability to diversify, which the NME hadn't managed.

2

A playlist more than 20 songs should have a very good reason for doing so. Most are far too long to reasonably expect people to concentrate on everything in it. If you're making a relaxing background mix, sure that's fine, no-one is really listening anyway, but if your aim is to provide a trimmed down list of songs that someone else should pay attention to, it doesn't work. Yes, I'm talking to you Far Out with your 543 track David Bowie playlist, which I'm still not entirely sure isn't an effort to troll people.

3

Am I still bitter at the NME about persuading me to spend money on buying the vastly overrated Highly Evolved? Only a bit.