Monday, January 16, 2012

Black Bananas: A Review Of The Debut Album From Jennifer Herrema (ex-RTX) And Crew

This record, like most stuff from Jennifer Herrema's earlier Royal Trux, makes me want to run shirtless through the streets like Ronnie Dobbs.

As that's a frightening prospect, it's better if i just sit down and try to wrap my head around this mindfuck and write something coherent about Rad Times Xpress IV, the debut record from Black Bananas, out 31 January 2012 on Drag City.

Forward thinking and backwards looking, Rad Times Xpress IV is a sick stew of influences, techniques, and styles. It's a record to rock out to, a record to soak up with headphones, and a record to party with in a room of your hipper friends.

Like some unholy mix of Eighties-era Zappa and Dokken -- no kidding -- "TV Trouble" rides in on a wave of noise, studio effects, and snarled vocals from Herrema. Funky, wacky, and oddly catchy, it's like "Sleeping Bag" by ZZ Top as mangled by the Reid Brothers up in Scotland.

(I should add now that I'm sure this review is going to make Rad Times Xpress IV sound a bit fucked up. And it is. But it's also very accessible -- melodic, even! -- and it's a fun listen. For all the menace here, the record is a blast!)

"Acid Song" is closer to older Royal Trux stuff, sort of a blues-y spin through familiar turf.

"Hot Stupid" is a funky and malevolent thing, like early Prince covered by one of those C86 bands. Fuzzy and crunchy, sleazy and catchy, this is one of the many highlights of the record. As Jennifer sings what sounds like some mutant take on 1970s soul, the feedback screeches and burns through the speakers, and the guitar wails like "Brother Louie" by Seventies stalwarts Stories.

For a real trip, try "RTX Go Go" which is a warp of Jennifer's vocals, loads of studio tricks, and guitar squall. Put your ear-buds in and freak out to this.

Back to the immediate with the George Clinton-styled "Do It" which sounds sinister and sexy. Punchy and direct, "Do It" has the effect of a less haphazard Royal Trux. There'a precision here where Jennifer Herrema's earlier band favored a casual, offhandeded approach.

After the trippy title cut, there's the AC/DC vs. Aerosmith stomp of "My House" -- think "Back In Black" being sampled while "Back In The Saddle" plays in another room. The keyboard figures here add a bit of nuance to proceedings -- it's not all stomping and rocking -- and Jennifer's vocals have never sounded so forceful and assured.

"Earthquake" adds a touch of Sabbath to the record. Not quite metal, the cut reminds me of that music that plays on the soundtrack during some Kenneth Anger films: hypnotic, violent, and sexy.

Scorpio Rising redone as a pop song, signifiers of leather-clad menace couched in an indie tune, Sonic Youth's "Purr" ripped apart and stepped on by Lydia Lunch in heels.

"Nightwalker" is nearly a ballad, a sort of electronic gloss on Joan Jett in some weird way. It's heavy but gentle. Herrema's vocals are buried in the mix, the lyrics somewhat unintelligible, but the song works. It's melodic in a way that the rest of the record isn't.

Almost catchy, it's Suzi Quatro in hell, strumming a guitar as the flames race up around her leather pants.

"Killer Weed" closes things like Slayer trying their hand at some funky Seventies jam. The electronic bits wash over the cut making it less metal and more...something else.

Like most of Rad Times Xpress IV, this is music of a 'hole new genre.

Sure, you can tell it's somehow associated with that gal from Royal Trux, and RTX, but it's a new, rough beast here.

There's something about Royal Trux, and Jennifer Herrema in particular, that always makes me think of Primal Scream and Bobby Gillespie.

Gillespie seems to have a fondness for the same eras in rock history and he manages to ape The Stones convincingly when he wants to.

But, in my estimation, his risk-taking is less adventurous than what's on this record.

If we're going to judge Jennifer Herrema on risk-taking, she buries Bobby Gillespie on Rad Times Xpress IV.

There's more than a passing similarity in approach but, frankly, Herrema seems more invested in what she's doing. Gillespie, though a master in his own way of this sort of thing, seems to always be a tiny bit detached from whatever genre he's hopping into.

Herrema here is really creating something all her own. It's music of its own genre, touches of the past mixed with a sort of retro-futurism.

It sometimes sounds casually tossed off but, if you listen carefully, you'll notice so many pieces and layers here in the 13 cuts on Rad Times Xpress IV that you'll be a bit surprised.

Here, on Rad Times Xpress IV, the former half of Royal Trux seems more at home than ever before. Jennifer Herrema pummels her doubters with this record that manages to be both wildly out there and willfully catchy in spots.

To further that Gillespie comparison for a moment: it's like when XTRMNTR (2000) dropped and it suddenly felt like you were hearing the perfect Primal Scream record.

Well, in many ways, Rad Times Xpress IV is the perfect Jennifer Herrema record. Less blues-y -- thankfully -- than Royal Trux, it's a masterpiece in its own fucked up way.

Black Bananas are monsters.

Crank this up now. Crank it up often. Spread the word.

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