Loved em as RTX. love em as BB.
Black Bananas with Kurt Vile - Rad Times Xpress IV  [Album]
Original Release / Drag City / WEB
MP3 / 320
"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.
Jennifer Herrema's first band, Royal Trux, understood this all too well, as she and partner Neil Hagerty broke down and reassembled their 1970s blues-rock foundation into all sorts of distorted shapes over the course of a tangled, tangential 10-album discography. But since that band dissolved in 2001, Herrema has been following a more linear path with her post-Trux outfit RTX, who, with each successive record, have been gradually refining and polishing themselves into the last hair-metal band standing-- a stance so antithetical to prevailing indie-rock mores, it's practically avant garde. If Royal Trux were about deconstructing rock mythology, RTX aggressively reasserted it, from the cover-art drawings of Herrema that look like they were cribbed from some daydreaming high-school student's notepad, to giving their studio albums titles such as JJ Got Live RaTX that suggest they're some long-lost concert bootleg, to the intra-band references (RTX being an anagram that first appeared in the 1990 Royal Trux track "RTX-USA") that casts Herrema's entire oeuvre as some sort of secret-society code waiting to be deciphered.
The narrative gets even more convoluted with the arrival of Black Bananas, which boasts the same personnel as RTX; copped its name from an RTX song lyric; and whose debut album title, Rad Times Xpress IV, makes a smidgen of sense only if seen as the fourth RTX effort. (It also includes a song titled, confusingly enough, "RTX Go-Go".) And RTX's penchant for straight-up sleazy rock'n'roll carried through to the new band's first public offering last fall, a faithful cover of the Stones' "Before They Make Me Run", complete with an uncannily Neil Hagerty-like guest vocal from Kurt Vile that actually makes the song sound more like Royal Trux than anything RTX ever attempted.
But that cover selection proves prophetic not for its form but for its source: 1978's Some Girls, arguably the Stones' most stylistically varied album, what with Mick Jagger channelling his New York-nightlife escapades into the Studio 54 strut of "Miss You" and the CBGB snarl of "Shattered". Following the same logic, Herrema fashions Black Bananas as an alternate-universe RTX who aren't afraid to absorb more modern influences like synth-pop, hip-hop, French-touch house, and (for 10 seconds of "RTX Go-Go" at least) dancehall, while guitarist Nadav Eisenman lays off the usual Eddie Van Halen histrionics in favor of lysergic Eddie Hazel funk. The album doesn't so much begin as burst its dam, with opener "It's Cool" arriving in such a thick surge of wah-wahed guitars and phased-out synths, it takes you a minute to realize the song actually adheres to standard blues structure.
In accommodating all of these disparate sound sources in a limited-range but densely textured mix, Rad Times Xpress IV finds a direct antecedent in Royal Trux's 1998 classic Accelerator (which essentially sounded like an arena-rock band playing inside of a vacuum cleaner) while feeling remarkably of a piece with contemporary strains of chillwave and electro-rock. (To wit, Black Bananas' first North American tour sees them opening for Sleigh Bells.) Where past RTX albums faithfully approximated the flash and thrash of 1980s metal with all the diligence of a Civil War reenactment, Rad Times Xpress IV illuminates how well that music lends itself to more experimental renderings (the tape-decayed boogie of "TV Trouble" and "Hot Stupid" sound like Aerosmith as produced by Ariel Pink; "Rad Times" crosswires Kraftwerkian funk and KISS crunch) while the songs seemingly engineered to hold onto RTX's denim'n'leather constituency yield surprises: "Acid Song" is actually a sultry slow jam, and "Killer Weed" rides its Ted Nugent riffs into a dubby denouement. However, even as its title track excitedly welcomes us to "The future! The future!," Rad Times Xpress IV doesn't shy away from referencing Herrema's notorious junkie past, as "Foxy Playground" recounts all the times and ways she "could've died." But instead of playing up the pathos of that sentiment, the song's slinky bounce effectively plays it for laughs, and for good reason: Twenty-four years into her musical career and still busting skulls, Jennifer Herrema is not about to let a little rumination on mortality get in the way of a rad time."