Release Date: Jan 31, 2012
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
On the promo copy of the “debut” CD from Black Bananas (and I’ll get to why I put the word debut in quotation marks in a few moments), in the upper right-hand corner a sticker was affixed that says “Album of the Year!”. Now, that might seem like a rather ballsy move to make. After all, the record is coming out at the end of January 2012, and there’s a full 11 months still ahead for the music industry.
The institution of classic rock-- and all the FM-radio stations, VH1 specials, and "Disco Sucks" rallies it has propagated-- is built upon a certain they-don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to purism. But the genre's most esteemed icons have ultimately survived because they've occasionally been willing to break down rock's rigidity to absorb decidedly non-rock influences, be it the Stones flirting with reggae and disco on Black and Blue, Paul McCartney trying his hand at new wave on McCartney II, or Neil Young's infamous synth-pop odyssey Trans. None of these may count as those artists' definitive works but, given that rock'n'roll itself began as an unholy union of blues, jazz, folk, and country, these sorts of sacreligious stylistic detours and genre experiments were arguably truer to the music's original spirit than anything that tried to milk fresh inspiration from the I, IV, and V chords.
Black BananasRad Times Express IV[Drag City; 2012]By Jon Blistein; January 30, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweet2012 may have only just started but you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a record whose title, album art, and sound fit as perfectly as Black Bananas’ debut Rad Times Xpress IV. A cartooned Jennifer Herrema — best known as one-half of Royal Trux — throws up devil horns in front of a background of surfing skeletons, pastel lightning bolts, stars, and rainbows, various big-cat like creatures, and a zombie playing guitar; a cigarette juts out of her mouth, her eyes are shrouded in reflecting aviators; multicolored foxtails fall off her neck and she’s clad in a jean vest, underneath which is a t-shirt with an axe-wielding demon standing over its serpent victim, the word “ROCK” emblazoned in a blood dripping font, the “o” and “c” partially shrouded by a shark tooth necklace. Radical.
Listening to Rad Times Xpress IV, the "debut" album from Black Bananas, we get the distinct sense we're being trolled. The album synthesizes all the gaudiest, most over-the-top elements of rock and roll's last three decades into a cluttered, self-consciously strutting stew of ZZ Top boogie, Mötley Crüe sleaze, Some Girls-era Stones disco-funk and - why the hell not? - T-Pain Auto-Tune voice modulation. The result serves as a definition of "hot mess," an all-over-the-place Heavy Metal throwback (the movie, not the genre) that begs to be trashed by critics.
Jennifer Herrema has always sounded like she's been gargling a mixture of bong water, whiskey and turpentine. Her latest project, Black Bananas, formed from the embers of RTX (itself formed from the smoldering sparks left behind when guitar virtuoso Neil Hagerty split from Herrema and their band Royal Trux), finds her in a familiar territory with some new and welcome additions. RTX had run its course.
If cramming multiple musical styles and genres into often undecipherable and altogether perplexing songs about weed and TV sounds like your cup of tea, then Jennifer Herrema’s (Royal Trux, RTX) latest project is probably right up your alley. But if you’re like me and of the mindset that adding laser sounds to a basic rock and roll song doesn’t make it better, but actually far, far worse, then you should probably be skeptical of Rad Times Xpress IV. Black Bananas—basically just a renamed RTX—tout themselves as a band making a new sound out of tossed aside or forgotten elements, and at times it works for them – kind of.
Rock‘n’roll isn’t dead. At least not yet:right now it resembles an elderly man in a care home, stuttering around in his piss stained jogging bottoms, talking to himself about the good old days, as his false teeth rattle a Charlie Watts-esque drumroll in frothy decaying gums. I was watching an interview on YouTube that Nardwuar the Human Serviette had conducted recently with Henry Rollins, and gosh darn it, even my hero Hank is getting long in the tooth.
Black Bananas front-woman Jennifer Herrema is probably best known for her time in Royal Trux, the hermetic but highly influential group she co-piloted throughout the 90s (plus a few years each side) with her then-boyfriend Neil Hagerty. Emerging intermittently from a narcotic haze, the couple put out a string of surprisingly coherent self-produced releases that combined sprawling experimental psychedelia and chunky rock & roll riffage, but after an ill-conceived deal with Virgin fell apart, so did their relationship; the lovers split, dissolving their musical partnership in the process. Post-Trux, neither party took long getting back on the musical horse, but while Hegarty's adventures have led him on a curious path (see his often impenetrable work with Weird War and the Howling Hex), Herrema has remained faithful to her old muse: for the past decade she has fronted RTX, a group of like-minded souls whose main goal, seemingly, has been to convince the world that Royal Trux never really went away, but just got heavier.
Royal Trux co-founder Jennifer Herrema can't string together one sensible sentence during an interview these days, but damn if the D.C. vet can't rip it on wax. The fourth album from her longstanding RTX crew – but the first under the Black Bananas moniker – eschews the rolling double bass tendencies of its eternal Rad Times Express for a psychedelic blues washout that sounds like Dave Gilmour joined MGMT ("It's Cool," "Acid Song").