Dry Cleaning / Original photo by Ben Rayner.
With new album Stumpwork (an old embroidery technique), London art-rockers Dry Cleaning avoid the 'difficult second album' syndrome with style. Their debut, last year’s outstanding New Long Leg, set the bar pretty high and it’s reassuring that, rather than closely sticking to a winning formula, they have expanded their sound palette without losing any of the idiosyncrasy that made their debut so distinctive.
What hasn’t changed is Florence Shaw’s vocal style. Her highly distinctive deadpan delivery (laconic is the word) remains the cornerstone of Dry Cleaning’s sound - but here the range of instruments and arrangements used to accompany her vocals has grown considerably. Featured at various times are vibraphone, piano and trombone (credited to producer John Parish), tenor and baritone saxophone, flugelhorn and trumpet (credited to guest Gavin Fitzjohn who also recently appeared on Aldous Harding’s recent Warm Chris), while drummer Nick Buxton also contributes synth, vibraphone, sax, clarinet and horn arrangements.
On the title track, ‘Stumpwork’, Florence intones, “What I really love is not to use something to it’s full capacity, not full power”, and here could be a key to appreciating this excellent record, which is quite often surprisingly understated and subdued. She has many observations concerning our current world, but presents them in such an off kilter fashion that her lyrics can either be deeply considered or pretty much ignored, depending on how one feels at the time (“What are all these men carrying? What is this toxic sludge? I don’t know”).
Overall, the sound is more varied than on New Long Leg, with Florence’s vocals even coming close to actual singing on ‘Gary Ashby’ and ‘Don’t Press Me’, while ‘Anna Calls From the Arctic’, a brave move for an opening track, is pretty close to a lounge groove, complete with a handclap rhythm, keyboard washes and a saxophone riff over a laid back melodic bass line. This is followed by ‘Kwenchy Kups’, driven by an upbeat acoustic guitar riff, in which Florence appears pleased because “things are shit but they’re gonna be ok and I’m gonna see the otters”. By this stage fans of the first record could well wonder just what is going on, but the driving post punk guitar groove of track three, ‘Gary Ashby’, heralds a return to familiar ground with its straight ahead metronomic beat – even if the song is about an escaped family tortoise.
When the band let rip it’s in grand style, as on ‘Hot Penny Day’, ‘Gary Ashby’ and ‘Don’t Press Me’ (“Just don’t touch my gaming mouse”), at other times they are more relaxed, as on ‘Liberty Log’, ‘Driver’s Story’ and ‘Icebergs’ (“chocolate washes out if you have the energy”), while they can be ironically upbeat as on ‘Conservative Hell’ (“the main thing I do is moving bags from place to place”) and ‘Kwenchy Kups’ (“you can say I don’t give a fuck, dick face”).
And ever present are the superb, varied guitar sounds of Tom Dowse - from crisp post punk grooves to big ‘90’s washes, through ambient and de-tuned tremelo textures. Stumpwork is an intriguing trip through Dry Cleaning’s very odd, very cool world and is presented in a glossy gatefold cover that opens to reveal a very colourful photo of a collection of bars of soap by NY photographer Annie Collinge, whose photos also illustrate the 16 page accompanying lyrics insert.
Check out the music video to their song 'Don't Press Me' below.
You can order Stumpwork by Dry Cleaning via the Flying Nun Record Shop here.