Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Dry Cleaning level-up with Stumpwork's immediate joys


Release date: 21 October 2022
Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork cover
19 October 2022, 00:00 Written by Ross Horton

Creating a fine line between innocence and evil – the banal and the melodramatic – is what makes Dry Cleaning so fantastic.

With New Long Leg, their 2021 debut, they gave us a healthy dose of pretty much every emotion it’s possible to experience, producing a distinctive and attractive sound. We said as much in our review at the time, and if anything the album has only grown in stature the longer it's been in the world. Hell, it's probably better now than it was then.

Thankfully, the basic elements that made New Long Leg so successful are here in plentiful supply on their new album, Stumpwork. Across the record you'll hear Lewis Maynard’s wobbly bass grooves that owe as much to Geezer Butler as they do to Robbie Shakespeare; Tom Dowse’s guitars that go from soothing to serrated, often in the same song; and Nick Buxton’s propulsive and powerful drumming that feels both rubbery and rigid. Greatest of all is Florence Shaw, whose droll sprechgesang, surreal lyrics and Nosferatu stage presence amount to the most refreshing take on the 'rockstar frontperson' since Jason Williamson started smacking his head on Jools Holland.

Where this album succeeds most – and it succeeds often – is when the band sticks to the formula, but that’s not to say that new treats aren’t added to the mix. When Shaw sings on the college rocker “Gary Ashby” (about a missing tortoise, of course), it’s completely revelatory. The mutant disco elements of “Hot Penny Day” point at a viable alternative sound for the band to pursue on future albums, and the barrelling, completely off-kilter “Don’t Press Me” sounds like Wire hanging upside down (which is just fun). “Hot Penny Day” also has my favourite lyric of the entire album: “Is it still okay to call you my disco pickle?”

When they slow things down, and let the atmosphere deepen - as on the closing pair “Liberty Log” and “Icebergs” - that’s when things get really interesting. The former, “Liberty Log”, sounds like they froze Can’s “Vitamin C” and were allowing it to gradually thaw while watching a Tarkovsky movie. Surreal, yes, but absolutely engrossing. “Icebergs” is probably the strangest track on the album, as it takes what appears to be a standard Magazine-esque post-punk number and bathes it in some form of sonic acid until everything is just a little bit off. Depending on your outlook, and how sensitive you are to things sounding ‘right’, this one could be nigh-on unlistenable.

Elsewhere, while the band plough a happy-Cure furrow on “Kwenchy Kups”, Shaw comes out with one of her very best vocal performances, and some of her funniest lyrics. Some particular highlights are: “Peaceful fish meat lying dead and flat in a chiller”; “You can say I don’t give a fuck, dick face”; and “I’d love to hold you across the middle and be your shoulder bag”. The title track also has “Woah, Just killed a giant wolf”, which is so preposterous that it shouldn’t be funny, but it’s absolutely hilarious in the context of the song.

You could make a case that “No Decent Shoes for Rain” is the most ambitious song they’ve ever recorded, as it takes their distinctive sound to its furthest reaches. The song is long, slow, delicate and intimate in a perverse way, like a stranger asking you a question a little too close to your ear. “Conservative Hell” is probably their prettiest song too - the waves of glassy guitar tones and synth washes that close out the final two minutes are (say it quietly) blissful.

The reaction to New Long Leg was great, and the band received many plaudits for their work, but the album takes several listens to truly show its majesty - and I’ll be the first to admit that if I could go back and amend my review I’d have awarded at least one mark higher for the overall score.

With Stumpwork, the joys are much more immediate, and the variety of ideas and rhythms and tempos and textures really makes a powerful impression from the first listen. It feels as though the band are having a second go at a first impression, and it’s a much more muscular and robust effort as a result, while also showcasing more colours, more ideas, more craft. Whether the lyrics are funnier or more memorable this time around is up for debate, but the music has definitely developed, and the songs show much more finesse. Many of the bands’ peers and contemporaries (Fontaines D.C., IDLES, Black Country, New Road) seemed to level-up on their second album, and that’s absolutely what’s happened here. Stumpwork is an essential album, and one of the very best of 2022.

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