Dry Cleaning made one of 2021's singular rock albums
The British post-punk outfit is EW's latest artist you need to know
New Long Leg, the debut full-length by Dry Cleaning, opens with a jolt: insistent, slightly distorted synth drums, countered by a bludgeoning bassline. Then a voice, extremely British and extremely over it, comes in, sighing: "Many years have passed and you're still… charming." The song, "Scratchcard Lanyard," is a dizzying introduction to the Dry Cleaning aesthetic, with music that's harsh yet undeniably catchy while its narrator is drolly amused by a world where one can "do everything and feel nothing."
The British band emerged in 2019 with "Magic of Meghan," a jagged ode to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Over relentless riffing, vocalist and songwriter Florence Shaw ruminated on the wonder of Meghan Markle through collaged, borrowed observations — "this beautiful woman tripped, and fell into my life… she's a smasher, perfectly suited to the role," she marveled — and added the occasional "yip" to her celebratory speech as Tom Dowse's guitars churned. That year, Dry Cleaning went on to release a pair of EPs: Sweet Princess, which included "Meghan," and Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks, which had the seething statement of desire "Viking Hair" and the delicately disaffected "Sit Down Meal." Shaw's lyrics, full of surrealistic imagery and delivered in a clipped sigh, remained the centerpiece, standing out amidst the clamor.
Dry Cleaning signed to storied indie 4AD last March, right after playing their first U.S. live show and right before a good chunk of their other American shows, including dates at the South by Southwest festival, fell victim to the pandemic. New Long Leg, which was written in the early stages of lockdown, was recorded during a cloistered session in Wales with producer John Parish, a frequent collaborator of PJ Harvey.
It's a gut-punch of an album, blending of-the-moment lyrics with the kind of razor-wire riffing and heavy basslines that could have slotted into a left-of-the-dial radio station's playlist at any point over the last four decades. "Unsmart Lady" combines an askance lament over the way women are perceived in the world with muck-covered shredding. The title track opens with chords that chime as stridently as ones you might hear during a commercial-free rock block, but then Shaw's voice rises up: "You are… no, you are," she trills, as if trying on the drag of air-kissing friends for the first time and trying to figure out if it feels as uncomfortable as it looks. The spiky "John Wick" is Shaw's funhouse-mirror version of a nature show about humans and their customs, numbly taking stock of the shifts to Antiques Roadshow and compare astrological signs. And the album closer "Every Day Carry" punctuates its undulations with a guitar freak-out. After it subsides, Shaw embarks on a pointed monologue that peaks with her intoning, "I just want to put something positive in the world/ It's hard because I'm so full of poisonous rage," as guitar lines tangle around her.
The South London-spawned band is, in a sense, carrying on a UK post-punk tradition that flourished in the '70s with agitation-inspired acts like the the Raincoats and the theory-minded Scritti Politti and continues today with excellent bands like the droll the Cool Greenhouse and the squawky Home Counties. (They also bring to mind Life Without Buildings, the short-lived Scottish act whose giddy 2000 track "The Leanover" became a surprise TikTok hit over the winter.) The combination of Shaw's poetry and her bandmates' willingness to bend the four-piece rock band formula as far as it can go makes Dry Cleaning a standard-bearer for the next generation of that movement, and it makes New Long Leg one of 2021's singular rock albums.