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. The Motorhead-by-way-of-Williamsburg hard-rock riffs were wearing thin and beginning to sound like the aural equivalent of a ironic T-shirt left crumpled in the bargain bin at Urban Outfitters.
The debut of Black Bananas, Rad Times Xpress IV, has much more going for it. Loose and free-flowing, the songs have verve and bounce — sometimes literally as with the rubber-band funk of “Hot Stupid” and, particularly “RTX Go-Go” (which comes complete with vocoder-saturated vocals).
Thematically the territory is unchanged. Most of the songs come off like the soundtrack for the biology class doodles of some 17-year-old stoner. The bottom of the bong tales “Acid Song” and “Killer Weed” being some of the most obvious examples. But the title track “Rad Times” and “Do It” are begging to be played on one of those Himalya Music Express rides at a county fair. They even have laser sound effects accompanying their synths.
This is not to say that the band doesn’t continue Royal Trux and RTX’s tradition of guitar swagger. The big ’70s rock riffs weave themselves into the mix, and the bar-band after three bottles of Jack pose that often made RTX a bore is held in check, here just something dirtying up the edges of an elegantly rotting bouillabaisse. Tracks like “My House” stomp with riffs that the young Beastie Boys wish existed when they were making License to Ill, so they could sample them.
On the whole, the jams and spaced-out scuzz rock of circa-Sweet Sixteen Royal Trux might most closely represent the vibe of Black Bananas’ debut. Fans of Herrema’s will welcome the return to form, and the new territory as well. For them, the record may feel like meeting an old friend you’ve not seen in a while for 3 a.m. beers and noticing that she’s got some “rad” new ink among her well-worn tattoos.