National Music Reviews
Dry Cleaning = Wire + Peter Buck + Kim Gordon
The South London band Dry Cleaning isn’t set out to be art house kids—I believe they set out to be a rock ‘n’ roll band. They’ve managed to be both. Their debut album, New Long Leg, was released in 2020 and was brilliant. Unfortunately for most artists, it was difficult to compete for attention in the heart of a raging pandemic. With Dry Cleaning’s sophomore effort, Stumpwork, the world is more open to appreciating their unique, misfit ways. This record feels like the second act of a debut.
When you momentarily put aside the magnificent vocal style of Florence Shaw and listen closely to the band that supports her, I quickly find something special. The first-rate rhythm section of Lewis Maynard (bass) and Nick Buxton (drums) meticulously drives every track, allowing Tom Dowse (guitars) to run confidently over the top. Dowse plays a jangly, Peter Buck–style with occasional David Gilmour vibrations and soft echoes. The track “Driver’s Story” best shows off this band: Great bass line, Pixies-like starts and stops and Dowse destroying everything with his guitars. On the next track, “Hot Penny Day,” Dry Cleaning unleashes a little funk. They fuck around and find out that they deliver something a little danceable—almost. Stumpwork has a crisp, rich production; everything on this record sounds and feels tidy and clean.
Now, back to Florence Shaw. Her vocals are like no other—she already sounds iconic. Her vocal delivery is a raw and cold, often resembling spoken word and sometimes laconic in its approach to radiating cool. Listening to Shaw’s vocals is like listening to William S. Burroughs reading Naked Lunch at Warhol‘s Factory in the height of the ’70s—aloof and casually chilling to the bone. Shaw never wavers in her approach, instead welcoming you into her overactive brain to experience her fidgety and neurotic observations. Every song is a new, warped story forcing the listener to hang on to every word and marvel at Shaw’s eccentric phrasing.
Her stream of consciousness style and bouts of beautifully spectacular nonsense read like this: “Things are shit, but they’re going to be ok / And I’m going to see the otters / They’re aren’t any otters / There are / Well, we can check / And I’m going to see the water caterpillar / There’s no such thing / A nice Idea.” Or, “Longton Grove so so so sad / A polite bus boarder / A seat swapper / Secret filmer / You didn’t necessarily feel / So I don’t necessarily feel.” (“Kwenchy Kups”). It’s so addicting pulling out Shaw’s lyrics—I can’t help myself, here is one more: “New Zealand, France, Switzerland, Northampton, Exeter, Egypt / It won’t do to cry about it / I’ve seen a rat / I’ve seen a guy cautioned by police for rollerblading / Let’s smoke and drink and get fucked I don’t know / Let’s eat a pancake.” (“No Decent Shoes For Rain”).
With Stumpwork, Dry Cleaning opened up spaces and I allowed myself in, only to find my soul corrupted before I could get back out again. Consuming this record for me is equivalent to being in the right corner of a dull room at a house party, or being on the knowing end of a juicy secret. It’s a wonderful place to be. –Russ Holsten