Sometimes the best things are those that take time to grow on you. This album is certainly an example of just that. When first listening to Dry Cleaning it’s easy to be put off by the minimalist instrumentation and lead singer Florence Shaw’s deadpan spoken word vocal delivery. It’s abrasive, harsh, very often weird, but then isn’t that all the key elements that a punk album needs? After a while of listening to Dry Cleaning you soon begin to realise that this is the work of a truly special collective force. Formed out of various post-punk bands in the London post-punk scene, Lewis Maynard, Tom Dowse and Nick Buxton joined forces as a collective after finding common ground at a karaoke party. Dowse later then bringing in university friend Shaw to add vocals. On their debut EP Sweet Princess, the sound incorporated elements of surf-rock, punk and occasional flairs of psychedelia. All whilst Shaw’s seemingly disjointed thought trails drove the songs into weird and wild corners of her psyche. Now returning with the first full length project, the band have defined their sound both sonically and lyrically.
The first thing you realise about this album is just how poignant and humours of a lyricist Shaw is. You can’t help but laugh at some of her seemingly abstract musings that make you marvel at mundane situations. From the moment this album opens with “Scratchcard Lanyard” you are drawn into Shaw’s surrealist world as she says “Pat Dad on the head, Alright, you big loud mouth, And thanks very much for the Twix”. It’s absurdist at its core and you often wonder how any of these thoughts connect. But perhaps that’s the point, they’re not supposed to, just like real thoughts. You can interpret them however you want but you’ll never know the true meaning behind them. “I bought 17 pounds of mushrooms for you, because I’m silly” she states on “Strong Feelings”, later saying that “Things just come to the brain”. And this is perhaps the perfect summary of Shaw’s lyricism.
It feels as though you’re watching through her mind as these mundane situations bore her to the point of wandering off into paths of thought that ponder why the Antiques Roadshow isn’t quite the same as it used to be on “John Wick”. And on “Leafy” she embodies the torturous monotony of trying to share common ground with someone. “An exhausting walk in the horrible countryside, A tiresome swim in a pointless bit of sea, Knackering drinks with close friends” she lists off. But laced throughout though there are at times very dark situations that Shaw leads you into. On “Her Hippo” she speaks of using the ideation of an escapist fantasy land to give her reason to leave the relationship she’s in. Describing her toxic environment with great unease, “His shadow looms around, A feeling of bees’ legs on my face, Safe inside a secret love, Let’s run!”. And although Shaw’s tendency is to give a straight cut delivery on most of her lyrics, you can feel the anger bursting out in places as declares “Her hippo, Everyday he’s a dick”.
Instrumentally this isn’t the most experimental sounding album you will ever hear, leaving that side of things to Shaw. But it’s not trying to be. Rather each funk infused guitar riff and driving bass line is acting as a gliding platform to allow Shaw’s lyrics to become their most poignant. With each movement there’s careful precision taken to ensure that each emotive burst out or change emphasises Shaw’s vocals with pin point accuracy. Like on “Scratchcard Lanyard” as Shaw seamlessly tumbles from her static listing of various types of bouncy balls to the line of “Wristband theme park, scratchcard lanyard” that hits every beat of the song with a flow with solid conviction.
The instrumentals have a unique ability to sound both tiresome and alive at the same time. Almost revelling in the every day drag that Shaw describes. On title track “New Long Leg” every instrument is telling a weird story of its own, the guitar seeming both frantic and disparaging within fleeting moments. And the guitar and bass lines keep everything on this steady and winding track. But look deeper and you can hear moments of brilliance in each part; together making something truly uniquely weird. And on closer “Every Day Carry” the track builds through swirling guitar lines, chugging drums and uniform bass lines as Shaw daydreams over chocolate chip cookies and wondering what it must be like to be the last tree left after a land has been deforested. Creeping in as the track chugs along are various uneasy samples and grinding sirens that help build this true sense of agitation and anxiety. Eventually leading into an instrumental break of guitar feedback that feels like it’s gotten stuck on a loop. But this is all precariously building towards the bands final flurry of intensity as Shaw declares “What a cruel heartless bastard you are, Welcome to hell”.
Albums are often judged on their ability to entice you into repeat listens, and this album is without a doubt going to have many of those. Each time you discover some new unearthed element that just makes you marvel at how many strange and surreal situations Shaw and co have packed into this album. From Llama Plushies to dentist’s back gardens, this album has everything you never knew you wanted.