Saturday, May 01, 2021

Dry Cleaning’s New Long Leg is an album for a generation that “Do everything and feel nothing”

Formed in South London back in 2018, Dry Cleaning – consisting of vocalist Florence Shaw, guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton – having been gradually honing their sound, releasing a steady stream of highly satisfying EPs. 

Moody, verbose, seething with irony and post-punk cool, the outfit’s music seemed to speak with the disaffected voice of a post-financial crash, post-Brexit generation, and most importantly, to that same generation. It comes as no surprise that their highly acclaimed debut album – New Long Leg – continues in the same vein; instead, it is the extent of the album’s mastery and sharp focus that ought to inspire our admiration and reverence.

New Long Leg is simultaneously meaty and tightly controlled. A cacophony of everyday objects and incidents, tragedies and delights, the lyrical heft of the album is undeniable. Floating above guitar riffs, Florence Shaw’s monotone is like that indignant little voice that lives at the back of our head, spitting out a stream of snarky comments and disarming confessions that we all would dearly love to have the courage to express.

Deadpan and seemingly emotionless, she professes to be “just an emo dead, dead stuff collector” with her lyrics bring merely “things that come to the brain”. Yet, although the album is teeming with “things”, whether they be objects, failed jokes, snippets of conversation, endless mentions of food (hot dogs, mixed salads, chocolate chip cookies, cream buns, banging pasta bakes, and Müller corners to name but a few) or just intrusive thoughts, these “things” are nevertheless profound, personal and deeply relatable.

With all their wit and wordplay, it is easy to get distracted by the lyrics and forget about the music, but paradoxically, this is exactly because the music itself is so good. Since their first few EPs the band has truly found their sound in revisionism of classic post-punk. There is a heartline of steady, heavy bass and a strong drum beat that echoes the lower notes of Florence’s spoken-word delivery, as well as clashing guitars that give a flavouring of attitude to an otherwise stark sound. 

On the whole, New Long Leg has the heart of a concept album, with a strong narrative progression and tracks almost blending into each other, although there are unexpected elements such as the piano ditty on “More Big Birds” that break up the uniformity. As such, the pacing of the album is effortlessly, yet tightly controlled, weaving us through the narratives in gentle ebbs and flows, coming up to frantic crescendos in tracks such as “My Hippo” and depositing us back on slower ones, like “A.L.C”.

Despite the deadpan humour of this album, there is a great deal of vulnerability hiding behind the sarcy-ness – a suppressed sense of anxiety behind the dry wit. As Florence sings “I think of myself as a hearty banana/ with that waxy surface/ and small delicate flowers”, the quippy simile gives way to a hint of discontent and of longing for something transcendent. This attitude is explored throughout the album, in “Strong Feelings” intermixing pessimism (“It’s useless to live”) with hope for a better understating (“Just want to be liked”) and culminating in a desperate I'm smiling constantly/ And people constantly step on me” on “Her Hippo”.

There is a disconnect with the previous generation and a fear of turning into one’s parents – an attitude also explored by Black Country, New Road; as well as dissatisfaction with one’s own place in modern British society that brings to mind Legss’ disaffected lament off their new EP Doomswayers, which declaims “If I were an American/ These experiences, they would have shaped me/ But because I am British/ They only make me tired”. The success of Dry Cleaning in this album lies in their ability to bring all of these elements together and present them in a way that is thoroughly relatable without being whiny. 

As the final track – “Every Day Carry” comes to its crescendo, the narrative leaves Florence’s head and bursts forth, ending with her confronting her body in the mirror and confessing to being “just a medium”. A striking moment of metafictional storytelling, it is also an invitation for us to reflect on our own physical and mental experience in this world, and perhaps, something that will make us feel less alone or less strange.


Liza Kupreeva


Photograph: Steve Gullick

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