From the moment they professed their love for Meghan Markle on debut single ‘Magic of Meghan’ in the summer of 2019, there was something different about Dry Cleaning. “You’re just what England needs, you’re going to change us,” vocalist Florence Shaw wrote of the duchess with starry eyes on the band’s exciting first statement, while on ‘Goodnight’, she proved herself to be hilariously vulgar as well, deadpanning the immortal line, “Have you ever spat cum onto the carpet of a Travelodge?” Maybe next time.
While in some ways akin to the wiry, sung-spoken trend of post-punk bands emerging from the UK in the last few years, the band also sit apart due to their more playful subject matter and brilliant refusal to take themselves too seriously; it’s something the modern punk scene is crying out for.
If the music feels refreshing to listeners, it’s probably because Dry Cleaning also represents a fresh break with the past for its four members. With drummer Nick Buxton and bassist Lewis Maynard having a past in 2010s indie outfit La Shark and guitarist Tom Dowse playing in a host of hardcore bands, the introduction of visual artist and lecturer Florence Shaw into the fold re-energised the trio, tearing them away from rigid moulds they’d sunk into over a decade of playing music.
With Dry Cleaning, and on debut album ‘New Long Leg’, these types of boundaries and ties to how things should be done are tossed out of the window, leaving a blank page on which they proceed to run riot. Following their two hype-building EPs ‘Sweet Princess’ and ‘Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks’, the quartet’s debut album sees them wade further into lyrical surrealism and musical experimentation.
Influenced by newspaper headlines, shop front taglines and finding beauty in the everyday, Shaw’s lyricism thrives in concealing devastating one-liners within verses about Müller Corners and Antiques Roadshow. For every “someone pissed on my leg in the big Sainsbury’s” (‘John Wick’) and “more espresso less depresso” (‘Her Hippo’), there’s behemoth closer ‘Every Day Carry’, where she proclaims: “I just want to put something positive into the world but it’s hard because I’m so full of poisonous rage.”
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Behind her, the music – put to tape in wonderfully crisp fashion by PJ Harvey’s longtime producer John Parish at Wales’ legendary Rockfield Studios – adds new textures through the use of drum machines and changes of tempo, adding far more up and down than on the band’s pair of EPs.
While ‘Sweet Princess’ and ‘Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks’ skipped along on a steady diet of buoyant percussion and jangly guitar lines from the post-punk handbook, ‘New Long Leg’ isn’t afraid to slow things down, and some of its most affecting moments come from this change of pace. ‘A.L.C’ is a psychedelic slow-dance, while ‘More Big Birds’ would feel at home on a record from Blur’s heyday.
While they’re an intricate, tight band in their own right, their greatest weapon on ‘New Long Leg’ is allowing Shaw’s vocals the space to make their impact, swelling and retreating at the perfect times. “I’d like to run away with you on a plane but don’t bring those loafers,” she professes on ‘Her Hippo’, a distillation of the welcome reminder that ‘New Long Leg’ provides: grand, romantic statements can also make you have a big giggle, and lord knows, we all need a laugh.
- Release date: April 2
- Record label: 4AD