Release Date: Jun 24, 2014
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
With each release, Jennifer Herrema's music seems to become more itself: the song and album titles get more cleverly stupid, while the layers of distortion increasingly rival the thickness of her bangs. On Electric Brick Wall, her fifth post-Royal Trux album and her second with Black Bananas, she and her bandmates get even wilder with their hybrids of rock, electro, and funk. They also get a lot noisier: the album's title is almost certainly a nod to the maximum gain sound of a brickwall limiter, and that's reflected in Electric Brick Wall's claustrophobically dense sound.
The 1990s alt-rock boom produced a lot of rock stars who weren’t very good at being rock stars: too glum, too suspicious of the mainstream audience they found themselves playing to, or both at the same time. Few of them really seemed to really relish the role, and the ones who stand out most, looking back from two decades later, were women: Kim Gordon, Courtney Love, and Royal Trux frontwoman Jennifer Herrema. While their contemporaries were imploding the classic rock golden-god mythos through a truculent refusal to follow the rulebook, Herrema and Royal Trux's Neil Hagerty, were accomplishing something similar by emulating its sickest qualities.
Jennifer Herrema has been making tawdry and trashy seem sexy and cool since her days fronting Royal Trux. Ever since the band broke up in 2001, she’s consistently proven just as much the creative force behind their shred-heavy rock as guitarist Neil Hagerty. RTX, her first group post-Hagerty, turned the sleaze knob up to eleven by cribbing guitar licks from ‘80s hair metal.
The second album by Black Bananas is an unapologetically snotty record with a title to match. Of course, there’s every possibility that Jennifer Herrema, leader of the (very) American quartet, would claim Electric Brick Wall has nothing to do with the widely disliked notion of brickwalled production – that harsh, digital and undynamic sound that defines a lot of modern rock music. But then, she also claimed that Black Bananas’ previous name RTX wasn’t supposed to be a callback to Royal Trux, her first band and the one which made her into a cult figure of Nineties independent rock.
Black Bananas is the latest alter ego of Jennifer Herrema, formerly the longer-haired half of Royal Trux, a 90s guitar-scuzz duo who made Bonnie and Clyde look upstanding. Electric Brick Wall follows 2012's Rad Time Xpress IV, two linked albums in which Herrema keeps doing what she does best – channel rock'n'roll's desperado values – but now with newly expanded auditory parameters. Physical Emotions soaks up 80s electro Give It to Me gets the funk, and songs such as Eve's Child are strafed with old synths, tonally at one with the processed guitar solo.
Alter egos — Riff Raff’s had a few. There are Jody Highroller, Kokayne Dawkinz and any of the hundreds of off-the-cuff monikers he bestows upon himself in song or on Twitter. Riff Raff is malleable, a canvas forever in need of fresh paint. In this fashion, he’s carved out a sui generis hip ….
?If you caught my review of Royal Trux’ Radio Video EP on this here site not so long ago, you’ll have a good idea as to why a new album from Black Bananas is so goddamn exciting. Jennifer Herrema (JJ to her mates) was one half of that nasty collective – the other half being her ex-lover and all-round guitar wizard Neil Hagerty. Since the collapse of Royal Trux, her output has come under different labels – the first of which, RTX, paid homage to that iconoclastic group in semi-acronymous fashion (she insists RTX stood for “Rad Times Express”).