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Uneasy Listening

Alight with noise and fire, the soul-busting Bellrays let it blast

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A guy I know is moving back to Texas and I am making a mix tape to send him off with. And not some preteen girl “Summer Tunes 2000!” lint either, no no no. It’s not going to be easy listening, and arguably it’s not going to be fun listening either. It’s going to cement the bond we share—our mutual love of horrendous noise—with selections by Hellnation and Capitalist Casualties and Drop Dead. Arsedestroyer will be on there, too. And it’s going to send him packing to Lone Star country with a black cloud of rabid harpies and winged demons streaming out of his car windows. Who knows, he probably will find it fun.

‘Cause that’s where the beef is: Car stereos. Crappy boom boxes. Workplace radios caked with airborne fryer grease. That’s where the late-night cruisers are going to get the Message. That’s where the young Brillo brother slugging it out in the dishpit is going to get the Message. Cheapo speakers, that’s where the people are, so you better make sure that’s where the music’s pointed. Punk and garage bands not completely deluded about their target audience should listen to the final mixdown in someone’s Pinto before giving it the thumbs up. Some bands actually do. Many, maybe even most rock bands are best listened to through a blown car speaker or an unequalized boom box. And the smart ones know it.

Ideally, though, a band should be able to have it both ways. The Bellrays can. Their 1998 LP, Let It Blast, sounds equally boss in dee-luxe stereo and trebly Tin-o-phonic. The latter because the guitar sounds blow down doors and the raw production (live on six tracks, recorded in the band’s rehearsal space, no overdubs) sounds super tuff squeezed through a lot of treble like so much thick Pla-Doh through the Fuzzy Pumper; the former because the full hi-fi treatment lifts and separates, fleshing out each instrument while restraining the 90 different things vying for attention with the Bellrays’ real showpiece: vocalist Lisa Kekaula’s lungs. Lungs? More like big cowhide bellows blowing air through some Bronze Age forge. The guts behind songs like the Side One closer, “Testify.” That “Testify” song, man, that’s just everything that’s so right about the Bellrays in one intense blurt: the soul-busting vocals, the Motor City riffs, the fabulous walking bassline with the hypnotic three-note figure, the psychedelic guitar flitterings. It’s some reckless stuff.

I also read where the Bellrays are keen on distributing their music via MP3. This is fascinating because if ever a record cried out to be heard in one of the old-fashioned ways (LP or cassette, really), it’s Let It Blast. One of the more interesting aspects of MP3 and the democratization of online music is that there’s going to be a lot of latte-sippers out there listening to these songs leaking out of überkrapp computer speakers. That’s either totally wrong or totally right on.

The Bellrays collide with Jay’s Upstairs this Sunday at 10 PM. Cover TBA.

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