The South London-based post-punk quartet's debut doesn't have much in the way of melodies, but makes up for it with its cynical spoken-word, chunky basslines and striking guitar licks.
From the first track of their debut EP Sweet Princess, the UK outfit Dry Cleaning made it clear they weren't a band of many musical tricks up their sleeve. Whereas their contemporaries like Squid and Black Midi feel compelled to throw at you a musical palette of a wide-range of styles with a prog-punk weirdness, Dry Cleaning is content with their formula. Nick Buxton's shifty drumming, Lewis Maynard's plodding basslines, Tom Dowse's jerky, angular guitar lines and the hyper-poetic vocal styling of frontwoman Florence Shaw, are the building blocks of Dry Cleaning's idiosyncratic sound. Even if this sounds like a critique right out the gate, it's really not.
On their debut New Long Leg, Dry Cleaning has found a way to nail the formula they've established. Even though the album wanders out of focus a bit in its second half, the majority of this debut showcases a young post-punk act remaining indebted to the forefathers of the genre while establishing themselves as a band to look out for.
New Long Leg starts out extremely strong with a major highlight, the lead single "Scratchcard Lanyard." It's pulsing bassline serves as the backbone for Shaw's cryptic and biting commentary that can be hard to make heads or tails of. Lyrics like "Do everything and feel nothing / Wristband theme park / Scratchcard lanyard / Do everything and feel nothing" don’t really throw their meaning out in the open, but through examination one can find vague hints of modern burden-of-choice dissatisfaction with its vicarious leap. And for the most part, most of the lyrics on the record hold layers of code that still seem ambiguous, but simple and biting at the same time—one of Shaw’s greatest talents as a vocalist.
What Shaw doesn’t do on this album very much is sing, though. It’s obviously an artistic choice—the first "sung" line on the album that resembles a melody doesn’t appear until after the halfway point on the title track. This structure puts the band in an interesting position to make instrumentals more dynamic to Shaw's minimal vocal approach. As a result, Dowse's guitar lines are rarely stagnant, wandering from phrase-to-phrase, riff-to-riff with a great effect. He never takes over the song while Shaw is delivering her deadpan poetry, which remains the focus of the song. However, this album doesn’t sit on guitar lines for long and it also never falls into the traps of your standard post-punk. For example, the opening on "Unsmart Lady" has a psychedelic edge to it, with all three instrumental members doing fills and creating chaos before the main riff and Shaw's vocals settle in. But instead of relying on this main riff, Dowse sees fit to add flair, at one point adding a wah-laced fuzz riff that also enhances Shaw's delivery of the line "If you like a girl, be nice / It's not rocket science," giving the track a venomous bite.
Besides the singles, there are some great deep cuts including "More Big Birds" and the epic eight-minute closer "Every Day Carry." However the closer doesn't really have a reason to be as long as it is and commits a significant portion of its runtime to a sparse drone that almost dares the listener to not pay attention before coming back to the original groove to close out the album. It's interesting choice, but it doesn’t work well, even if the section is followed up with an energetic reprise of the song's main groove and Shaw's laconic delivery of "Now it seems like none of that meant anything."
Even if New Long Leg's second half doesn't carry the immediacy of the first half, there's absolutely nothing bad about it. On the debut, there is a baseline level of quality that the group never fails to meet. And while the deadpan, spoken-word delivery can be hard to derive emotions from and may also drive away people looking for a melodic and catchy post-punk record, it all works in Dry Cleaning's favor. The band seems content to play their blend of jaded and abrasive post-punk and this 41-minute collection is an exciting step forward that establishes them as a band to watch.
Highlights — "Scratchcard Lanyard," "Unsmart Lady" & "New Long Leg"
New Long Leg is available now. Stream the new album below.