2012 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. So of course Black Bananas (which is essentially Herrema’s last band RTX under a new name) sounds like a retro-futuristic jam band with crunchy riffs, wailing solos, and bass lines as rubbery and thumping as they come. If this review starts to read like something out of a 1978 issue of Rolling Stone — well, sorry I’m not sorry.
If we’re gonna break it down to reference points, Black Bananas sounds like the far out love child of 70s bar rock and P-Funk at their grimiest, conceived in the middle of a righteous acid trip while a VHS of Heavy Metal plays at full volume. It’s a doozy of record, one that unfortunately sounds like psychedelic sludge at its worst, though more often than not simply leaves you perpetually grooving, relishing all the little flourishes, and longing for a room washed in a blacklight, poster of a black panther lurking out of the grass under a full moon thumbtacked above your head. And I swear that’s a compliment. Phasered guitars spew out of wah-wah pedals like they were stoned laser beams on tracks like “Acid Song” and “Hot Stupid,” the latter boasting some especially tasty instrumentals that punch then curdle under the weight of a thick shroud of distortion. And while that sticky funk may be Black Bananas’ key sound, they make some interesting forays into 50s rock with the a nice sax solo coupled with steady piano stabs on “Overpass.” Hot licks and high-on-the-fret-board guitar solos are wielded regularly, though their audibility and quality are quite linked. On opener “It’s Cool,” the lackluster solo gets buried in the mix, while standout cuts like “RTX Go-Go” and “Foxy Playground” feature some fiery fret work that swirls atop steady, guttural grooves.
As a singer, Herrema is engaging as always, her voice low and casual, though not without authority. She can lull you into a blissed-out haze one second, then get right on top of the mic with a snarl the next. There isn’t a whole lot going on lyrically on Rad Times, though I suppose that’s neither a compliment nor an insult. What deserves to shine — “Hot stupid!” or “Welcome to the future, rad times!” or “So look out baby / I’m comin’ to you / With the best damn weeeeeedddd / that you’ll ever do” — does, while for the most part Herrema’s voice burrows comfortably in surrounding fuzz.
The real icing on the cake for Rad Times is that it’s genuinely funny. Drenched in effects, the guitars seem to belch at times, while the up-and-down-the-scale solo at the end of the “Rad Times” finishes in a particularly fantastic whammy bar gurgle; and I mean “Do It” may be one of the record’s less interesting tracks, but how can you not love the anti-anthemic mantra, “I do what I want, when I want / And I don’t wanna do it”? “TV Trouble” opens with a chugging, delayed riff that fades into a vast openness like a Camaro cruising down an empty highway at 2 am — then Herrema coos, “I can’t write, cause I don’t read / Keep me fixed to my TV.” Also, the last song is a total head banger called “Killer Weed,” and, yeah, that lyric in the above tells you everything you need to know.
Black Bananas’ propensity for density and pedal boards can take them down the wrong rabbit hole at times, to the point where some tracks seem to mush together, or small sections on otherwise solid cuts fall flat. But for the most part, Rad Times Xpress IV bubbles over with a love of over the top rock n roll that’s impossible to not find endearing. And sure that’s not necessarily a universal draw, but if you’re craving some totally far out faded righteous tunes with killer hooks that’ll possess your soul — and I know some of you are — look no further than Black Bananas.