Led by Johnnie Cluney (former drummer for Mondo Drag), this Davenport, Iowa crew strolls through this debut like ‘70s Stones-loving, Midwest collegiate heps embarking on a road trip through the Southwest. The opening instrumental, Brown Recluse, has a vaguely creepy mountain dobro guitar vibe whose sinister suggestion evaporates as in the very next song, Protector, as Cluney’s Tom Petty’d drawl starts insisting he’s “not your enemy.” But then says he is “still your enemy.” So like any good, unreliable narrator, he’s sending mixed signals. But sonically, No Déjà Vu, while blue mood-inviting as a late night summer drive, lays a little low at times, missing the creepiness that seemed in store initially.
The songs stretch out just enough to offer visions of the dusty back parking lots of roadside bars and the starry skies beyond them, especially musically well-matched in the excellent instrumental, Royal Tea, where you swear you can hear that bar’s neon sign buzzing somewhere; and the memory ride of Many Moons, a violin crying right along with the twangy guitars and warm keyboard walking away in the back of the mix. And unlike some modern southwest twang-rock noodlers you might lump Bedroom Shrine in with, they get out before that 4th shot/minute, leaving the songs sometimes under-weirded out at times, but perfectly satisfying with their unassailable song-ness. Like the minimal Get Tuff, its subtely wah-wahed guitars and Cluney’s lonely, brief phrases leaving it all so open, you almost feel a humid midnight breeze come through the window. Which makes grittier rockers like No Déjà Vu and the stomping, jittery sax-seared Celebrations feel a little dirtier than they actually are.
The flanged vocal bridge and some synth that don’t fit just right on You’re Gonna Lose add some odd, and those sorts of trip-ups keep you guessing and not recalling Tom Petty. The guitars are scrumptious throughout, dropping back and forth, their echoes coming and going like streetlamps as you traverse through a city border out into empty desert space.
Neither suffused with the urban cool of the Entrance Band or the trans-continental creativity of Calexico, Bedroom Shrine nonetheless strolls confidently between those two swinging doors, right into one of those roadside bars and back out into the night again just before they say the wrong thing to the wrong boyfriend.