The core speciality of Dry Cleaning is its voice. The voice, belonging to frontwoman Florence Shaw, takes on the role of an alternative inner monologue, rambling streams of consciousness to form the sword, wielded by the warrior’s post-punk that belongs to Dry Cleaning’s instrumentalists.
These monologues, fashionably clothing debut album ‘New Long Leg’, are Courtney Barnett-esque, hoofing the filth and smoke of the UK’s rubbish-y modern life, deadpanning Blur. Without this layer of apparel, the album still wouldn’t shy with nakedness, as Shaw’s backup gang of players maintain a sharpness throughout.
The prose may take a surreal turn, holding a window toward social omnishambles and grey clouds pissing rain. Her voice is jaundiced by life’s banalities, to the point of care, to the point of surrender. Impressively, she succumbs; she is one with the cig-in-hand greasy spoon dweller; with the kvetching crossword puzzle; with the bowl of soggy cornflakes. It creates fables out of these buttles, similarly to how one may name their band ‘Dry Cleaning’; daylighting as a shrug, rather than a boom – there’s nothing as ‘ehh’ as the process of dry cleaning, but the band doesn’t give a shit.
Shaw flickers through her intrusive thoughts, asking “what are the things that you have to clear out? Baking powder, big jar of mayonnaise” on ‘Leafy’, asserting “you can’t just come into my garden in your football kit, and start asking questions about who lives here” on ‘A.L.C.’.
It’s an anti-whimsy that ricochets around the world on ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’, taking the form of an unusual checklist – “it’s a Tokyo bouncy ball, it’s an Oslo bouncy ball, it’s a Rio de Janeiro bouncy ball”. Also noted are bananas, Twix bars and oven chips.
‘Her Hippo’ immaculately jumps from the spectacle of human oddity – “an electrician stuck his finger in the plughole and shouted ‘Yaba’” – to BoJack Horseman-style “I’m a piece of shit” monologues – “I’m smiling constantly and people constantly step on me”.
She does a little more singing on the title track, seemingly while flirting – “you’re a spoon, pal, you are” – before continuing her musings – “would you choose a dentist with a messy back garden like that? I don’t think so” – as clouds of modernised twee wrap themselves around the instrumentation.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite, but mine is probably ‘Strong Feelings’ – you could say my feelings are strong. Losses and influxes of brain power stem from its political subtext, which in true Florence Shaw fashion, addresses the amount spent on mushrooms in a relationship, which itself is sandwiched by supreme opening line “just an emo dead stuff collector”, pentatonic guitar lines, the phrase “I just want to tell you I’ve got scabs on my head”, and the fascinating way that Shaw pronounces “hotdog” in the sentence “I’ve been thinking about eating that hotdog for hours” – less the recognisable food item, more a dog that is hot – “hot – dog”, not “hotdog”.
Unfortunately, she succumbs to the heaviness of her own performance style on ‘John Wick’. Segments like “if you’re an Aries…and I’m an Aries” flash blander colours than the bulkier witticisms that precede, despite masquerading as a ‘eureka’ moment, and no amount of different-keyed guitar interpolation or punditry of ‘The Antiques Roadshow’ achieves enough to rescue.
It reels in the lesser nature of the album’s closing portion. Both ‘More Big Birds’ and finale ‘Every Day Carry’ are one-note, if not bass-tastic. It feels strange to assess a near-eight-minute closing track in such a way, but it is one-note – same-old strums, and the vocals are too mild-mannered while linking themselves together much less than on the album’s chunkier helpings.
The wall of sound definitely tries to make up for the wrongdoing. Luckily, it takes centre stage a few times on ‘New Long Leg’, particularly on ‘Unsmart Lady’. The track lampoons the nine-to-five – menial day jobs have it in them to beat a person up as much as sudden spirals of rock instrumentation; on-beat basses, fantasy cymbal smashes, and poisonous guitar sounds. See the psychedelic approach the song takes on in its interlude; it treads on everything else.
‘Unsmart Lady’ channels what one may consider a pessimistic pulse, but Dry Cleaning are probably more realistic than anything. Unlike myself when listening to ‘New Long Leg’, their work is acerbic, sarcastic, rarely pleased, occasionally animating in an up-front manner.
It’s not even a matter of fault-finding; the narratives are simply amused by being, and that’s the charm of Dry Cleaning, and that’s the charm of ‘New Long Leg’; a gnashing debut.