The year of British Post-Punk continues!
Gladly this particular wave of Post-Punk, as opposed to the 00's revival, has a larger range of influences. Rather than relying so heavily on Joy Division, bands are pulling from Talking Heads, Wire, Slint and many less Punk infused groups, allowing this scene to find its own feet and actually become something worth paying attention to.
In regards to Dry Cleaning, the biggest comparison point for me is The Cool Greenhouse's self-titled debut from last year. Spoken word pieces drawn out in monotone to match the monotony they are describing, drifting over a sea of guitars, bass and drums that range from jangly and groovy to droning and pounding. Stream of consciousness lyrics and simple chord progressions act as the bedrock, but it's also here where we begin to see them diverge and where Dry Cleaning finds their own little niche.
And, for a quick stab at older artists that appear to be influences: Joy Division/Peter Hook in the bass, Wire's guitar work and Patti Smith's vocals.
All of this coalesces into "just enough". There's just enough melody, just enough riffage, just enough Pop-friendly moments as well as just enough noisy sections. This might seem mean initially, but I think it genuinely works well. Unlike some of their peers, they don't lean so heavily in any one particular direction and instead float around in the middle of the pool, but that allows nearly anyone to find something to latch onto. They don't deny you anything, but they also don't push for any kind of catharsis, letting you sit in murk of your thoughts.
Songs gently explore different parts of this loosely collected genre, with tracks like Scratchcard Lanyard and Strong Feelings relying more on the bass-drum groove that builds tension while the guitars offer an angled jangling of relief. By comparison, Her Hippo softens things enough to include an acoustic guitar which creates more of a harmonious haze when entwined with the electric and More Big Birds does so by slowing things down and having Shaw, almost, sing.
Musical standouts are John Wick and Every Day Carry. The former is easily the noisiest song on the album, still not enough to be much of a turn off for an outsider to the genre, but noticeably grittier and more caustic than the rest of the album. The track move back and forth between bass-led moments of space and guitar-led moments of claustrophobia, that bring dynamics to an album that is designed to be flat. The latter is a 7+ minute epic, with noisy bridges, moments of glitches and waves guitar of interplay and an actual build towards a satisfying climax.
At the centre of all of this is Florence Shaw. It's important to note that she isn't the frontwoman, taking control of the band, nor is she "just the singer". Her relationship to the rest of the group is played out as her delivering a message in each track, which then gets flipped on its head as her messages come across as ramblings. At least initially.
Shaw's lyrics come across as nonsensical at first, an odd combination of overly-poetic, yet incredibly descriptive and story-driven. Take, for instance, the second verse from the opening song, Scratchcard Lanyard:
"Weak arms can't open the door, kung fu cancel
It'll be okay, I just need to be weird and hide for a bit and eat an old sandwich from my bag"
Seemingly non sequitur lines that come together in a wonderful way as her wry sense of humour unfurls itself. Several different perspectives are used in some of these songs, flipping back and forth as Shaw decides to share her point of view as well as those of others around her or those actually experiencing whatever banality is being described.
Possibly my favourite is the verse near the end of closer Every Day Carry, in which Shaw laments much of the droll parts of life, the useless vanity of others and how it affects herself. This comes to a head as she decides to try and turn things around:
"Every one of them looks a tit
I’m not gonna lie, it’s daunting choreography but I’m gonna bring it all the same
I just want to put something positive into the world but it’s hard because I’m so full of poisonous rage"
Much of what makes this album great has become a double-edged sword as the album rides those "just enough" lines so well that I get lost trying to find my own thoughts on each track. Leafy is probably the most obvious example as the instrumental behind Shaw is so middle of the road between the Pop and noise, the melody and the monotone, that it feels like they've tried to paint with a little of every colour only to end up with a brown splodge.
Despite my criticisms, New Long Leg is a great project and a wonderful debut for Dry Cleaning. The slow unfurling of tiny hidden away melodic ideas and understanding that comes with repeated listens is wonderfully well executed and I hope that whatever they do next can push "just enough" of the musical exploration that they win everyone over.
Favourites: Scratchcard Lanyard, Her Hippo, New Long Leg, John Wick, Every Day Carry
Least Favs: Leafy