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“You Cannot Let Up”: Bedroom Shrine, “No Déjà Vu”; April 5 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 01 April 2014 16:29

Bedroom ShrineFor all of about six seconds, the Quad Cities band Bedroom Shrine’s new album No Déjà Vu seems content to set a mood.

The first sound on “Brown Recluse” is the whirring of a tape machine, whose unsteadiness makes the opening notes of acoustic guitar tremble plaintively.

But before that old-time folk vibe can register, the wind chimes tinkle softly, leading to some gentle feedback that builds to the simultaneous entrance (at the 19-second mark) of hand claps and electric slide guitar. Those two elements pull against each other, the hand claps establishing a pleasant groove with the acoustic guitar while the slide concisely articulates its grudge.

The instrumental is clearly meant as a table-setter, but it illustrates that Bedroom Shrine has no interest in dawdling. At all of 85 seconds, the track musically sketches out the band’s Facebook blurb of “rock ’n’ roll gets lonesome” and scurries off.

That’s the basic method of the album, whose 12 songs run a total of 32 minutes. That by itself means nothing, but it relates to both the album’s charm and its shortcoming: The vivid, sharply drawn songs leave you wanting more (good!), but they also feel like sketches that would be even better given the time and space to grow into more-mature form (less good!). It’s telling that the only two songs that run more than three minutes – “You’re Gonna Lose” and the title track – feel most like they’ve reached the ends of their natural lives.

Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Johnnie Cluney and also featuring guitarist Bambi Suits, drummer Dennis Hockaday, and bassist Aiden Landman, Bedroom Shrine grew out of the demise of Mondo Drag – of which both Cluney and Hockaday were members.

Cluney is also the illustrator for Quad Cities-based taste-maker Daytrotter.com, and that job likely informs this debut album. In an interview last week, he said that bands can’t afford to assume that people will have patience or attention for the whole; albums need to grab ears and hold on tight. “If you don’t have their attention by the third song, fourth song, you’re in trouble,” he said. “There are too many bands in the world now as it is ... .” Listeners are “going to move on to something else, I think. ... You really do have to have their attention. All the time. You cannot let up.”

By that measure, No Déjà Vu – released on the local Cartouche Records label – is an unqualified success. The album takes two basic approaches – the aforementioned “lonesome” (with much of the emotion carried by the electric guitar) and bratty pop-rockers – and nearly every track offers just the right amount of essential detail. The overall aesthetic is airy yet pleasantly full.

“I was thinking about having catchy choruses,” Cluney said, “and I was thinking about having these tiny little hooks.”

Keening strings erupt aggressively on “Cash for Gold,” transforming a love song into loss by foregrounding sharp emotion – an effect augured by the strangely evocative opening words: “I want my head replaced by a dog’s.” In certain vocal sections, a deeper voice enters that cements the lead singing to the low strings.

Clouds of guitar sounds create anxiety on “Get Tuff,” swirling around the plainspoken vocals and core acoustic guitar.

On many tracks, the flourishes are minimally employed but still effective – such as the punctuating reverb effect, increasingly insistent keys, and (in the break) expressive guitar distortion on “You’re Gonna Lose.” Unexpected saxophone adds some buoyant soul to “Celebrations.”

And then there are times when the absence of unusual detail becomes an unusual detail.“White Highway” brings the album back to the opening home-tape-recording hints of “Brown Recluse,” but instead of quickly obliterating and expanding on that vibe, it carries it through to the end – a simple, unadorned song over a gentle hiss.

While No Déjà Vu does feel more fragmentary than I’d like overall, that’s far better than an album or songs that hang around too long. Cluney drew a subtle but appropriate distinction: “I don’t feel like it’s short; I feel like it could be a little brief. ... If you hear something you like, you’re going to listen to it again.”

Bedroom Shrine will mark the release of No Déjà Vu with a concert on Saturday, April 5, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island; RIBCO.com). The show starts at 9 p.m. and also features Chrash and Skye Carrasco. The $10 cover includes a CD copy of the album.

For more information on Bedroom Shrine, visit Facebook.com/bedroomshrine.

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