Dry Cleaning – ‘Stumpwork’ review: magnificent second album proves they’re one of a kind

The London band's second album is a bold leap forward, one that sets the band apart from their contemporaries and defies categorisation

It is a shame that Dry Cleaning are so often talked about simply as a post-punk band – or even worse, lumped in with a ‘sprechgesang’ movement. They are a four-piece guitar act, and Florence Shaw’s performance drifts between singing and speaking, but that’s really where such comparisons should end. If nothing else, on their second album ‘Stumpwork’, Dry Cleaning prove they are unique.

If we are to approach the record in terms of basic genre descriptors, at different times the record recalls charming jangle pop (‘Gary Ashby’, ‘Kwenchy Kups’), woozy ambient (‘Anna Calls From The Arctic’), and slacker rock (the whacked out looseness of ‘Icebergs’’ and ‘Driver’s Story’’s is the antithesis of post-punk spikiness). The ambitious abstract noise that the band explored in an interlude for ‘Every Day Carry’, the closer of their debut album ‘New Long Leg’ is folded in to provide glue between the album’s extremes.

More interesting than genre tags, however, are the strange combinations and juxtapositions Dry Cleaning find within that mix of influences. ‘Hot Penny Day’ begins as a chugging bass-heavy funk number, then mutates into a blast of sax-powered psychedelic rock. The slowly churning guitars on ‘Driver’s Story’ are as if a shoegaze riff has been hollowed out to leave a weird and intriguing husk.

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Then there are Shaw’s vocals – themselves an ever-shifting presence. Another commonly held cliche about Dry Cleaning is that her lyrics deal with the everyday, which is true – subjects on ‘Stumpwork’ include car boot fairs, exposed wires and staring through people’s windows – but that doesn’t mean that they’re banal. Normal life, she demonstrates, can be surreal, like when the narrator of ‘Kwenchy Kups’ imagines themselves wrapping around another person and transforming into a shoulder bag, or when on the title track a sack of rubbish and food is mistaken for a baby.

 

It can be silly, like when the titular tortoise escapes on ‘Gary Ashby’, or when the concept of ‘shronking’ arises on ‘Anna Calls From The Arctic’ (its meaning is unclear, but it is clearly an act of mild maliciousness), and it can be serious too. ‘No Decent Shoes For Rain’ is heavily influenced by grief; a number of the band lost close family members during ‘Stumpwork”s recording.

Shaw’s lyrics also hint at a wider political picture. “I see male violence everywhere,” Shaw sings on ‘Hot Penny Day’. “Nothing works, everything’s expensive and opaque and privatised,” she says on ‘Anna Calls From The Arctic’, a theme revisited more explicitly on ‘Conservative Hell’.

All of this is presented as a modernist stream of consciousness, jumping suddenly from one direction to another like an experimental novel. When coupled with the dextrousness and range of the rest of the band, it makes for a record that, when given the requisite time and attention, offers unfathomable depths to explore.

Details:

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  • Release Date: October 21, 2022
  • Record label: 4AD
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