Almost any debut album from a band who’ve had an instant impression on the music scene is always an eagerly invigorating time, and Dry Cleaning come with unintentional extra expectation, deep in the aftermath of a pandemic and – for me – at a point where the UK music scene needs an injection of originality.
While we do have the welcome raw quality of Black Country, New Road, who also offer a huge amount of hope, it is now Dry Cleaning’s ostensibly effortless sardonic swagger that takes centre stage and is in full flow on 10-track New Long Leg. No pressure, of course, but this collection of songs stands up to make them one of the most exciting post-punk alt-indie bands in years. It’s a multi-hyphenate world we’re living in, and they’re creating all the crossed-over creativity.
New Long Leg initially presents what you already know, abound in the sways of opening track Scratchcard Lanyard, and rarely lets the charm go. Sure, their satirical, insightful game from lead vocalist and lyricist Florence Shaw is the centrepiece but they excel musically, with the band underscoring and accompanying her spoken words with a hypnotic beat and purposeful direction. Their rhythmic grooves are only heightened with their live performances, so I’m sure they’re looking forward to 2022 UK live gigs as much as we are.
Alongside Shaw is Tom Dowse (guitar), Lewis Maynard (bass) and Nick Buxton (drums), and the quartet kick off this era with the above-mentioned single originally released late 2020, which also heralded their arrival as a new signing to 4AD. It’s a brave way to begin the album but it means if you don’t know their work then you’ll either be instantly hooked or you’ll drift off into the crowd. Sure, it’s a hit I’ve had on repeat far too often, but it works as both getting it done for those in the know and setting the scene. It’s also a bit of an unquestionable masterclass.
To shake up the anticipated, follow up track Unsmart Lady is somewhat of a trash-alt break down where you imagine you’re stood in a convivial murky underground club, watching your trainers in the flickering darkness of stage lights and feeling the room fill up around you, just as the mumbled intrigue softens down from the bar at the back of the room. It’s got an experimental edge, and an underlying sound reminiscent of Blur in both their Modern Life Is Rubbish and Blur self-titled era and is very pleasing with it.
Track 3 introduces itself with no fear and it’s THAT bass in Strong Feelings that makes its own story. This is now a band that doesn’t want you to linger but has your attention. The unique, sparky lyrics from Shaw drift effortlessly over the catchiest bass line this side of Billie Jean. Frankly, if you don’t feel yourself tilting somehow in time, then I’d be a little concerned for your welfare or genuine admiration of any music. She might talk about ‘scabs on my head’ but it’s the line ‘been thinking about eating that hot dog for hours’, which sticks firmly in my mind. Impossible not to like. If anything, I’m going to start using it as a test for people in my life, it’s that good.
Leafy slots us into an early 90s vibe, on the back of a single electronic beat, there’s a slight hint of John Squire lurking in the atmosphere. The lyrics remain spoken but have a rhythm and this balance persists across the album. Here’s another fine bass line alongside Shaw talking about every day events including cleaning out the kitchen, relationship ponderings and ‘never talk about you Ex, never, never, never, never, never slag them off because then they know, then they know…’ is inspired.
It’d be difficult not to mention the likes of The Fall and also Jarvis Cocker at least once, the latter a king of visual narrative, and Her Hippo might be the closest to pulling you into the darkness of a Pulp-like story. There’s a split focus in the production between clear lyrical insight and when the song takes over. This is one to revisit and learn the tales amongst the unusual. Like you’re uninvited but listening to someone else’s conversation, turning off your music when there’s a discussion nearby and secretly taking notes in your head.
Title track New Long Leg opens up questions like ‘would you choose a dentist with a messy back garden like that? I don’t think so’ and you’ll agree, a touch of Shaw singing, before we delve in John Wick, the shakiest track on the album despite its strong name. It amalgamates other songs gone before and while I liked the truth about the changes in the Antiques Roadshow, even a purr doesn’t fully save the mix.
But just as your attention drops, we’re back in the groove with More Big Birds which fakes a start of the themes so far, and subtly shifts, builds and grows into a much more melodic welcome. It’s spiderweb silk capturing a new hook, one that’s pop-happy and packed with sunshine potentials but in a good way, we’re talking The Sundays and the light of a perfect Fleet Foxes echo but in a very Dry Cleaning realm.
A.L.C. throws in a deft touch of surrealism, abstract guitar work like that of early Pavement and the sound that Graham Coxon loves to explore. Another thought-piece of places gone, memories nearly had and the accompanying, before we shift into closing track Every Day Carry. On an initial lyrical listen, it appears to be a mishmash of ideas and repeated specific lines but might be the accumulation of listening to lines through the air around you, literally meaning the pick-up of everyday lines you hear around you. I love the odd pattern that lives here. It’s parts of various moments. Lo-fi indie experimentation that kicks off into a higher energy, lifting to the finale and blowing out, the exact way you need it to burst.
Unconventional and intentional, dry wit with a relaxed fit, pondering and beautifully meandering, New Long Leg gives as much as you want it to. One of the key must-have albums of 2021? Absolutely.