Dry Cleaning certainly take a turn we don't often hear in the modern but thriving post-punk scene. The Londoners tow a thin line of contrasts, one of which is groovy art punk instrumentation and the other a deadpan and deadly nonchalant vocal performance style that feels less like an average singer and more like a poet who stumbled into a jam session. Whether that juxtaposition suits you is entirely up to listener discretion, but there is little room for debate that the execution is quite flawless.
It's worth digging straight into the meat of the conversation by addressing the vocal style frontwoman Florence Shaw employs. Centered around non-emotive lyricism, Shaw may come off as alienating to some but likely for others supplies a welcome diversion from overplayed melodies and intentional dramatics. This atypical performance makes the sound of Dry Cleaning something unique, easily giving New Long Leg the proverbial leg up on other post-punk albums of the year that may not stick out as evidently as this. Even if the exact strategy doesn't suit you from a musical standpoint, there's no denying that the performance won't be soon forgotten.
The importance of Shaw's performance lies less in the exact melodic structure and more in what is actually being said. Had Shaw's oddball observations and commentaries lacked any deftness to them then New Long Leg would have no inherent merit at all. Instead, lines throughout the album are absurd in the best way possible and equally will be hard to forget. Standout deadpan lines include "I've been thinking about eating that hot dog for hours" on Strong Feelings, the entire first verse of the title track, and the strange commentary about Antiques Roadshow on the song John Wick. The songs are quietly wry, and so subtle that without much thought they would be missed rather than being seen as small commentaries on the mundanity of life.
The contrasting sounds of New Long Leg are what holds everything together, as all three instrumentalists provide stellar dance-heavy post-punk that still gives these songs a swaying life. The liveliness of thick bass lines, guitar shredding, and percussive drives suit perfectly a similarly raucous vocalist like Charlie Steen, Joe Talbot, or Andrew Savage. That they are instead surrounding the voice of Shaw uncaringly rollicking through the songs is what makes the album so different than everything else going on in the post-punk scene.
Although New Long Leg suffers due to the inherent lack of distinction from song to song, given that Shaw and company don't have a plethora of range to work with, Dry Cleaning's debut album is an outrageous and amusing album full of strange sentiments and slick grooves abound. Understandably not everyone's cup of tea, for those who buy into the unapologetic nature of Dry Cleaning are sure to get plenty of replay value out of this debut.
Favorite track: Strong Feelings