by Phil Scarisbrick
Dry Cleaning’s debut makes round pegs fit into square holes – by hook or by crook – with exquisite results
The London-based four piece’s debut record comes out on the back of a trio of EPs – Sweet Princess, Boundary Road and Snacks and Drinks. While all three showcased the raw ingredients of what we experience on New Long Leg, it feels like their debut long-player is them perfecting the recipe. If you were unfamiliar with their work before listening to the record, it can take a couple of tracks to get used to what you’re hearing: Florence Shaw’s epigrammatic delivery is spoken-word, yet doesn’t feel like conventional poetry. It sits in a realm all of its own, and once you’re locked into it, the ride is thrilling.
It’s easy to think of the words and music as separate entities. Shaw’s vocal has a real ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) feel to it. It draws you in with its visceral imagery and honey-like tone. It seems completely at odds with the soundtrack that it sits above. Rather than driving the vocals, the spikey, Warsaw-era Bernard Sumner evoking guitars duel with looping, thick bass lines and frenetic drums. The resulting miele makes round pegs fit into square holes – by hook or by crook. The combination shouldn’t work, but it does so exquisitely. What the album lacks in dynamic and variety, it makes up for in wit, vivid imagery and a brash, yet moreish soundtrack.
Whether it’s a tale touching on the female experience on Unsmart Lady, or longing for a world that existed before lockdown on A.L.C., Shaw’s lyrics are endlessly interesting. ‘If you like a girl, be nice / it’s not rocket science,’ she sings on the former, with the kind of blunt directness that can’t help but be endearing. John Wick, a working title that stuck despite having nothing to do with the song itself, rubberstamps a real British sensibility that runs throughout the record. ‘They’ve really changed the pace of the Antiques Roadshow / More antiques, more price reveals, less background information,’ says Shaw. While the reference to the BBC staple may not mean much to those outside the UK, it works as the perfect metaphor for the dumbing down of information in the modern era, with people desiring bullet-point titbits over substance.
In a world where music arrives in cyclical conformity, evoking something or a mix of things that – no matter how good – you’ve heard before, it is wonderful to hear something that feels truly unique. To describe New Long Leg as anything like ‘art-punk’ or ‘post-punk poetry’ or any of these types of convenient monikers is to do it a disservice. It is a record that offers something totally different, and, as a debut, that something feels really exciting.