Dry Cleaning Spit Back the Unending Noise of the World on 'New Long Leg'
Published Apr 01, 2021Florence Shaw writes a song like a bowerbird builds a nest, with an obsessive fixation for colourful garbage. On Dry Cleaning's debut full-length, New Long Leg, Shaw weaves new language from journal pages and YouTube comments, advertisements, headlines, haircuts and spoiled food, turning ordinary detritus into something fantastical and useful. Bolstered by lush production from John Parish, Tom Dowse's riffs take on a new depth and Lewis Maynard and Nick Buxton's kinetic rhythms are accented with shakers, drum machines and handclaps. New Long Leg is a bristling and steely-eyed statement of intent, introducing Shaw as an anthropologist of the everyday, or, as she deadpans on the sinewy "Strong Feelings": "Just an emo dead stuff collector / Things come to the brain."
Shaw's rock star origin story — a visual artist suddenly finds herself fronting a post-punk band — bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Sue Tompkins, the joyous propeller of the legendary Life Without Buildings. But where Tompkins found possibility in syllables and sounds, Shaw finds it in the space between them; her deadpan delivery, so mathematically precise and unconcerned with keeping time, drags and disrupts where Tompkins' twirled and danced. Onstage, Shaw is still, eyes fixed on the middle distance, nearly deleting herself in service of what she's releasing; "I'm just a conduit / Don't look at me / I'm just the medium," she says on the psychedelic "Every Day Carry."
This disappearing act happens several times on New Long Leg, as though Shaw is attempting to get out of the way of her own words. Over the title track's brushed-iron guitar, she breaks her barrage of questions about cruise amenities to ask, "Are there some kind of reverse platform shoes that make you go into the ground more / Make you reach a lower level?" But before waiting for a reply, she turns away — "Nevermind."
Most songs on New Long Leg work this way — specific lines come careening like meteors from the cluttered sky, sudden moments of clarity that realign the apparent randomness. It's hard to care about the narrative of a song like "Scratchcard Lanyard" when it offers something as spectacular as "I think of myself as a hardy banana / With that waxy surface and the small delicate flowers / A woman in aviators firing a bazooka," but deeper meaning reveals itself in time: "I've come here to make a ceramic shoe / And I've come to smash what you made / I've come to learn how to mingle / I've come to learn how to dance / I've come to join the knitting circle." A challenge of expectation, of ageing and caregiving and women's roles and failures to conform; there's rage running under "Scratchcard Lanyard," a deep frustration belied by Shaw's ever-cool delivery.
Despite all the common magic and curiosity in the writing, New Long Leg is an even-keeled record, and the quartet remain at a confident simmer for the length of its 40 minutes. The considered pace of Shaw's delivery is an invitation to explore her mind on her exacting terms, something she nods to on "John Wick": "They've really changed the pace of the Antiques Roadshow / More antiques, more price reveals / Less background information," she says while the band crash in waves around her. "The reason the price reveals were so good / Was because we had to wait for them." New Long Leg is a record that values patience and deliberateness, one that stews and worries and rages but never lets its veneer slip — a soundtrack for holding it together.
Towering centrepiece "Her Hippo" is the beating heart of the record; a romantic escape blooming beneath Dowse's slate-grey riffs, a story so vulnerable and hopeful it hurts to look at directly. "Safe inside a secret love / Let's run," Shaw says, before deflating the tension and turning to the absurd: "Anyway, mystical Shakespeare shoes / A trapped person screaming / The last thing I looked at in this hand mirror was a human arsehole." Eventually, the small offerings of sincerity become more potent for their scarcity, and a couplet as curt and half-committal as "I'd like to run away with you on a plane / But don't bring those loafers" feels like it's squeezing your heart. Even after all the avoidance and rug-pulling, there's the feeling that "Her Hippo" is getting at something too raw and embarrassing to confront head-on — that among all the pointless rubbish, love remains: "Feel like I wanna send you 20 texts / Let me know when you're inside the plane."
Following a fourth-wall breaching breakdown on seven-minute closer "Every Day Carry," Shaw mutters what might be New Long Leg's bluntest admission: "I just want to put something positive into the world / But it's hard because I'm so full of poisonous rage." New Long Leg may not always be positive, but it's more interesting than that, more needling and necessary. It's everything at once, a record that absorbs and spits back the unending noise of the world and asks that you take a second look, every common thing somehow made brand new. (4AD)