Dry Cleaning’s new album New Long Leg is out now via 4AD.
I think Florence Shaw’s lyrics have become ingrained into my brain. They are the weirdness that permeates my thoughts and the most mundane moments of my life – “A sugared armpit, a roast potato on a long branch, more spice, plans conceived in love” -rattles around my head as I brush my teeth in the morning. I swill her words round in my mouth until I spit it out with the toothpaste. I’ve been trying to figure her out for the last few months now (and have consequently become a bit Dry Cleaning obsessed). Her lyrics are so unpredictable that they are near impossible to locate, and I can’t quite pin her down; maybe she doesn’t want us to.
Dry Cleaning, the London-based post-punk quartet composed of drummer Nick Buxton, guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard, and vocalist Florence Shaw released their new album, New Long Leg on April 2nd. The four-piece explore the realms of love, anxiety, bland foods, the motorway and mortality. Throughout the album there is a constant unpredictability; a drawling sprechgesang depicting bazookas, pop rocks and hot dogs, woven into post-punk. The way that Shaw chooses to deliver her lyrics feels like a resistance against performance. In the music video for ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’, Shaw manages to detach her face from human expression completely, whilst uttering “Do everything and feel nothing”. I suppose to speak about emotional detachment with such numbness ensures that we hear and see the rift between the intense meaning of the words and the boredom in the way that Shaw chooses to deliver them.
‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ is also filled with a kind of humour, like in the lines “I’ve come here to make a ceramic shoe / and I’ve come to smash what you made”. It’s precise nonsense; a mix of the mundane and the metaphysical that makes Dry Cleaning so digestible, not only this, but these lyrics offer a small-scale escapist experience. She rarely uses polysyllabic words, which allows her to create a movement of stressed and unstressed iambs, or in simpler terms, it’s a perfectly melodious delivery that still maintains an air of sarcasm. The emotion in the song lies in Dowse’s riffs that screech in a way that accesses a strange and beautiful chasm of sentiment. The song could fall apart if it weren’t for the driving rhythm section, the dependable drum, and bass that Buxton and Maynard provide are a canvas for Drowse and Shaw to express themselves on.
In ‘Unsmart Lady’, it feels as though Drowse’s cascading riffs and Maynard’s base hooks are in conversation with Shaw, they rile after “What’ve you been up to? / cool / yeah”, it feels as though the notes are a form of speech, a dialect equally as euphonic and jagged. The licks are reminiscent of Joy Division and Sonic Youth, delivered by Drowse’s skin prickling delay that helps to package and deliver Shaw’s weird words in a palatable way, rather than shoving them down your throat. This positions her at the forefront of punk poetry. The lyrics are very visceral, focusing on adjectives “Fat podgy, non make-up, unsmart”. Is this what we become when we reject beauty standards? It feels as though Florence is detaching from the shame surrounding these words, reclaiming and accepting them. After all, the album is titled after a bodily growth, a ‘New Long Leg’. Sometimes it is important to sit in our otherness, three legged, unsmart and outcast from society, Shaw uses alienation as a form of self-acceptance.
‘Strong Feelings’ is a song that has a lot of space, due to its uncomplicated musical pattern, creating a void that Shaw can project her lyrics over; ‘I just want to tell you I’ve got scabs on my head / It’s useless to live / I’ve been thinking about eating that hot dog for hours’. This absurdist conglomeration of a voice that is sometimes sad, sometimes impartial, always trapped by something feels reminiscent of the work of Beckett, or a result of the Dadaist cut-up technique, as bits of text are intertwined with Shaw’s own perceptions. Maynard’s baseline is repetitive and addictive and feels like an earworm boring into the brain in the best way possible!
Evidence of Shaw’s artistic lecturing background is visible in ‘Strong Feelings’, when Holbein’s anamorphic skull is depicted; ‘the painting’s foreground, at the bottom is a famous anamorphic / which when viewed sidelong is revealed to be a human skull’. The skull, a nod to memento mori skull, is a hidden reminder of our own inescapable mortality. This is a suitable metaphor to ground the ephemeral chaos within Shaw’s small world. Shaw is the ultimate ‘emo dead stuff collector’, the joyful reveling in ‘a banging pasta bake’ and other inanimate objects that she surrounds us with feels like a strange reminder of our own corporality.
New Long Leg sucked the pulp out of my brain and left it with eyes of Shaw’s perception, her vivid memories, the images she looks for, bizarre obsessions and an above average knowledge of Antiques Roadshow, and it’s made me feel (and write) new things. It’s the strangest thing I have heard in a while, but I want Florence and her band of bards to capture the interest of the masses, in the hope that it may make us all a little bit weirder, more honest and daring in our personal lives, and a little more inquisitive of the mundane.
Find Dry Cleaning of Facebook.