As a Picky Bastard it is your duty to listen to hours of music in order to have an opinion. Much of this will be music that is a long way from being your cup of tea. An unwanted side-effect of this is that it only further reinforces existing ideas about the type of music you don’t like. In short, the more you attempt to listen with an open mind, the pickier a bastard you become. You may be thinking that this sounds laborious. And you’d be right, sometimes it is – often your only reward is being able to get a rise out of whoever recommended said now-hated album to you in a WhatsApp message. But what really keeps us going is the search for an unexpected moment. A surprising gem that challenges all your ideas. New Long Leg is one of those gems. On paper I should hate it, but I don’t. Let me tell you why.
Guitar bands don’t usually float my boat these days, especially noisy ones, or those that might broadly be considered ‘post-punk’ or ‘experimental’. Dry Cleaning is no ordinary guitar band. In the solid but unassuming rhythm section we have the band’s linchpin. Then we have a hardcore guitarist looking like he went to the wrong audition, got the gig anyway, and thought “fuck it, why not”. Fronting all that is a spoken word artist, at once enthralling and terrifying, tranquilly weaving between stream of consciousness and devastating yet touching observations. ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ has the best lyrics you’re going to hear all year. I’m almost tempted to cut and paste the entire song in here to make you appreciate them. But without Florence Shaw’s vocal delivery, half the effect is lost. Here’s a snippet of brilliance anyway:
It’s a Tokyo bouncy ball / It’s an Oslo bouncy ball / It’s a Rio de Janeiro bouncy ball
Filter, I love these mighty oaks, don’t you? / Do everything and feel nothing
Wristband, theme park, scratch card, lanyard / Do everything and feel nothing
‘Leafy’, ‘Her Hippo’, ‘New Long Leg’ and ‘John Wick’ are home to more lyrical genius. ‘An exhausting walk in the horrible countryside’, ‘an electrician stuck his finger in the plughole and shouted “yabba”, ‘the last thing I saw in this hand mirror was a human arsehole’, ‘would you choose a dentist with a messy back garden like that? I don’t think so’. None of this makes sense written down in a review like this. In many ways neither does it on the album and neither is it supposed to. For me there’s no deeper meaning to dig for – I just enjoy enjoying the language and the illogic of it all. Another reason to love New Long Leg is how it’s littered with British cultural references. From oven chips to ‘the big Sainsbury’s’, from the Antiques Roadshow to a ‘banging pasta bake’.
How does it all work together? I don’t know. At times on the album, ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ again, ‘Leafy’, and ‘Strong Feelings’ for instance, it really does feel like they’re in unison. At other points the guitar could be playing a different song in error. More often than not the music is merely secondary to Shaw’s abstractly poetic performance: a cross between Aldous Harding’s severe seriousness, the lyrical adroitness of Jarvis Cocker’s playful monologues minus the voyeurism, the confessional nature of Joni Mitchell or even Sylvia Plath, and an unconcernedness all of her own.
Not to say that Dry Cleaning sound like any of these artists, because they sound like no one else. And not to say that unconcerned means uncaring. Melding the disparate elements of the band successfully is no accident. They’ve honed this stuff with great skill and this stunning debut album is the result of their hard work. I want to quote more lyrics at you but I’ve run out of space. Instead I’ll implore you to listen to New Long Leg, whether you think you’ll like or not, and then listen to it again. You might find yourself surprised too.
Words by James Spearing