New Long Leg (4AD/Remote Control)
This says something, and in some ways everything, about Dry Cleaning’s territory on this, their first album. “It’ll be ok I just need to be weird and hide for a bit and eat an old sandwich from my bag.”
Uh-huh. But also, yeah, I feel ya. You’re in my head.
Two years after a couple of EPs vaulted Dry Cleaning (guitarist, Tom Dowse; drummer, Nick Buxton; bassist, Lewis Maynard; and vocalist Florence Shaw) from scratchy band with an unlikely backstory to one of the most exciting revelations of the pre-covid times, there is a full length album. And it’s fully Dry Cleaning.
The contrast between Shaw’s dry, seemingly emotion-neutral spoken delivery of her pointillist lyrics and the ever-moving music that has the brittleness of post-punk as a start, is a consistently fascinating friction point.
What you get then is a blend of restraint and urgency, the general and the speculative, the minor and the impactful, and this combination plays a dual game brilliantly: twisting your feet, hips, arse and shoulders in spasmodic reactions, while turning your brain over. And not with anything fancy in either case.
Where Shaw’s lyrics relay the accretion of the mundane and the inconsequential, sometimes feeling like an eye passing over a room that’s just like any other room at any other time - and of no time really - the music feels tightly sprung. It’s as if Dowse, Buxton and Maynard are locked in an adjoining room, having been told to make their own way while here because there ain’t nothing going on out there for them.
The title track offers a glimpse of early Cure caught between a forest and a cupboard, both jerking at the edges and unblinking at the centre; Scratchyard Lanyard suggests – truly – Midnight Oil circa Head Injuries in its potential to unleash on you if the walls come down; A.L.C is a disjointed provocation.
It’s not all tensile reactions from the three. One difference from the EPs which announced their arrival is songs aren’t always coming at you: there are shadings and retreats as well as forays forward into things leaning heavily; there are times when the music comes at you sideways, pinging unexpectedly in your ear.
However, the sense at all times is, at the very least, of latent emotion ready to be tapped. Unsmart Lady, for example, is a darkish metal song in waiting, with its guitar bending around a lurching bassline, while Her Hippo enters with a sauntering ease, hands in pockets, but the friskiness of the drums and the bass heft carry an implication of edginess that might have you think those hands are clenched inside the pocket.
Meanwhile, Shaw seems to remain in sardonic control, even when the slices of anger emerge like flashed, wolfish incisors, maybe incited by someone in “raincoat sweat”.
Her lines don’t always appear to have begun next to their neighbours, their provenance uncertain, and while Every Day Carry is a flat-eyed list of untethered thoughts that makes its own logic (and dissolves into a destroyed junkyard before burning right out of it), you’d be justified in wondering many times through the record, were these a bunch of stray lines pulled together Burroughs-like?
“That silly woman’s done a too-straight fringe/A baby’s appearance/More espresso less depresso/Solutions for damp since 1971/But I can rebuild,” she says in Her Hippo, a song which also mentions “Mystical Shakespeare shoes/A trapped person screaming”.
But the accumulation of thoughts begin to make a shape, a story, a landscape minutely detailed. It’s nights in front of the television next to “Mostly uncles and fathers/Mostly eating nuts, seeds and berries”. It’s the memory of a cafe where “They had a sushi counter and a counter that did pastries and mixed salads”. Or a “Time to shut up old actors/Time to fix old pants/Time to get fed up.”
This is registering everything around you but everything is distorted by an internal lens. And that sets up the apparent conflict between words and music, vision and realisation. Except, the conflict between those points is actually the same place.
It’s a world made small but all the more intense for its narrow vista, that can at times feel so narrow that it is positively claustrophobic. You’re in your head too much. Your body has its own timing. You’re not sure how or when but you’ve moved, and you’re still moving.
“The smear test blues/Put a shawl on that mannequin mate/Can you imagine the rent?”
Kicking your way out feels the only sensible route. There’s nothing on the other side though. Nothing you don’t already have here. Here, again? Yep. Close the door.
Spring into space, into walls, into yesterday.
Sound familiar? Sound like 2020 (and for some people 2021 too), the year of living over-intimately and repetitively? Yeah. God, yes. But you’re still in motion. In a smaller box.
“I’m confused/Ready to cut loose.”