If its original incarnation saw post-punk used as a vehicle to open up audio possibilities, its 21st century replica feels more about closing down and refining. Once a barometer for free-thinking, the past decade has increasingly found the post-punk label being used alongside stodgy, blokey, half-heartedly political indie rock.
Dry Cleaning, though, stand apart. For one, Florence Shaw’s clipped, spoken word delivery is a unique sonic weapon, with her surreal word-flow moving from mundane reminiscence through to expletive-laden guttural pronouncements. Ice cold and purposefully sterile, her verbal spasms seem to elicit more questions and emotions in one line than many band’s entire sets.
There’s more to it than that, however. Dry Cleaning have a commitment to a singular aesthetic that their peers lack; recalling everything from the dry production sound pursued by Gang Of Four to the oblique minimalism of Wire, they skewer Middle England while also sketching out a wholly distinct sonic universe of their own.
Debut album ‘New Long Leg’ gathers these elements together in one place, and it’s simultaneously the most inventive, distinctive, and irritating debut album 2021 will provide. Recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales, the album is both playful and frustrating, revealing and confusing, entrancing and repulsive.
Opening with ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’, it’s able to move from alt-universe pop elements through to full band jams, exploring each idea to its furthest possibility. ‘Unsmart Lady’ is shot through with light, while there’s a Can thrust to mid-album highlight ‘Leafy’.
‘John Wick’ is a dry, intense, implausibly dark performance, while ‘More Big Birds’ and ‘ALC’ demonstrate Dry Cleaning’s intricate full band methodologies. Indeed, with Florence Shaw’s distinctive vocals sitting to the forefront, it takes repeated listens to pick apart some of the nuances within their work – the way lengthy closer ‘Every Day Carry’ moves from restaurant pronouncements to all-out sonic Brutalism, say, is a divine that places demands on the casual listener.
That’s not to say that the album isn’t without its prickish elements. There’s a reason that each 6Music play of ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ results in social media posts; Dry Cleaning are arresting, confusing, and obtuse, but there’s method to their madness. In a world populated by noise, their restraint, and willingness to dip into the emptiness of modern life affords reflections that some are simply not able to absorb.
A record that exists on it own distinct terms, ‘New Long Leg’ feels a world apart from the staleness of so many groups tagged with the term ‘post punk’. Indeed, as a complete aesthetic statement, the debut album from Dry Cleaning hardly merits contemporaries at all – suffocating, surreal, and exploratory, it takes chances other groups could scarcely envisage.
Words: Robin Murray
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