Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg
LP | CD | Digital | Cassette | Limited LP
Released 2nd April 2021
Art-rock virtuoso lyrics and post-punk sounds for the clever and sharp-witted listener.
Dry Cleaning has to be one of the best new bands to emerge in the twenty-first century, interweaving inventive, astute, and amusing lyrics with instrumentation that underlies the frantic anxieties and uncanny disconnects of modern life. The South London-based band includes Nick Buxton (drums), Tom Dowse (guitar), Lewis Maynard (bass) and Florence Shaw (vocals). New Long Leg was recorded in just two weeks during summer 2020 in rural Wales at Rockfield Studios with producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Aldous Harding).
The album opens with Scratchyard Lanyard, a track originally released as a single in November 2020. The title’s assonance alludes to the sonic play of language that pervades New Long Leg. In Scratchyard Lanyard, Shaw’s monotone voice, with occasionally clear enunciation, highlights the strange ways we make meaning from spoken words. In the first verse, Shaw repeats the phrase “you keep it,” yet puts vocal pressure on different parts of the words each time around with “you keep it” followed by “you keep it.” It’s almost as if Shaw’s voice inhabits multiple speakers at once. At the same time, such repetition also becomes dialogic, as if she’s engaged in a solo call-and-response narrative. Single words themselves have multiple meanings that produce playful and absurdist images in Scratchyard Lanyard and across the album:
“And thanks very much for the Twix/ I think of myself as a hardy banana with that waxy surface and the small delicate flowers/ A woman in aviators firing a bazooka”
Twix bars, Bazooka bubble gum, Bazooka gun. The lyrics invite our minds to reel with the layers of each word, and the English-language oddity that “gum” is, of course, just a single letter removed from “gun.” Here, Dry Cleaning offers escapist wordplay rooted in consumer culture anxieties.
The conversational form that begins in Scratchyard Lanyard continues in the songs that follow, particularly in Unsmart Lady. Shaw asks questions, yet her replies reveal a deep disconnect and absence: “What’ve you been doing?/ Yeah … What’ve you been up to?/ Cool/ Yeah.” A closer listen suggests that Shaw becomes engaged in dialogue with the band’s instruments instead of her own words. Guitars and drums reply to Shaw after she presses, for example, “What’ve you been doing?” It’s all as if to say that the notes and beats emerging from instrumentation alone are also a form of language.
Lyrics aside, so many of the tracks sound like homages to Joy Division and early New Order with melodic basslines and frenetic drums. Yet Dry Cleaning is also making music that’s clearly distinct from any early post-punk bands with their persistent linguistic play. If you put on Strong Feelings, the third song on New Long Leg, and you don’t listen to the lyrics, it fills your bones with a sense that you’ve been transported back to 1980 or 1981. But Shaw’s words bring the track unmistakably into the present, into conversation with the absurdity of modern existence in a pandemic: “It’s useless to live/ I’ve been thinking about eating that hot dog for hours/ Kiss me … In the painting’s foreground, at the bottom, is a famous anamorph which when viewed sidelong is revealed to be a human skull/ That seems like a lot of garlic/ Long and lean and young and lovely”
That dissonance arises more prominently in Leafy, as new wave notes bring the listener from wistful wondering and utter banality into the depths of traumatic memory: “What are the things that you have to clear out?/ baking powder/ Big jar of mayonnaise/ What about all the uneaten sausages?/ Clear the fat out of the grill pan/ This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do now/ Trying not to think about all the memories/ Remember when you had to take these pills?”
Coming back to the absurdity of modern existence, New Long Leg, the first track on the B-side that’s also the album title, speaks to the odd superfluities of consumer culture and the ways we indulge in conspicuous consumption. A “new long leg,” the song tells us, is also a “useless long leg.” The character that emerges here reminded me of something out of a Karen Tei Yamashita novel, critiquing the strange excesses of capitalism. In Yamashita’s book Through the Arc of the Rainforest (1990), a character named J.B. Tweep with a superfluous third arm revels in his state of deformed surplus: “He accepted his third arm as another might accept ESP, and addition of 128K to their random access or the invention of the wheel. As far as J.B. was concerned, he had entered a new genetic plane in the species. He even speculated that he was the result of Nobel prize-winning sperm. He was a better model, the wave of the future.”
Similar themes emerge in the song John Wick, which directly follows New Long Leg, and in the subsequent track More Big Birds: “Brain replaced by something/ With only the side of my nose for company”
The final song on the album, Every Day Carry, merges the band’s brand of humour and introspection with discordant guitar fuzz that intersperses lines ranging from “It’s chocolate chip cookie” to “What a cruel heartless bastard you are.” There’s a deep loneliness to each track on New Long Leg, linked with a desire to revel in amusing cliches inherent in everyday life. Ultimately, the lyrics and sounds are enigmatic and ambiguous, asking the listener to play a role in making meaning from the music they’re hearing.