With their second album, Stumpwork, newly released on October 21, Dry Cleaning arranged intimate, under-play 'homecoming' shows in Peckham and Kingston to celebrate. Watching the quartet in Kingston, we had some thoughts...
The Dry Cleaning sound is less 'dry' on Stumpwork
A handful of songs in to Dry Cleaning's second Banquet Records 'outstore' show at PRYZM, guitarist Tom Dowse introduces his guitar tech Dan, and informs the couple of hundred fans circled (octagoned?) within touching distance of the band that Dan will, in future, be playing guitar and keyboards on tour with the quartet. This news is greeted by a shout of "Well in Dan!" from one well-wisher, to much amusement.
The band's desire for future live reinforcement is understandable, given how much broader the instrumentation is on their John Parish-produced second album, the newly released Stumpwork, with woozy jazz, clipped funk, pysch and electronic beats added to their post-punk palette. Drummer Nick Buxton pulls out a saxophone at one point tonight, vocalist Florence Shaw blows into a melodica at another, and everything just sounds richer, fuller, darker and more seductive.
Florence Shaw is a vital voice in these troubled times
Giving an approving appraisal of Dry Cleaning's 2021 debut album New Long Leg, the New York Times hailed the gloriously deadpan Florence Shaw for “weaving the random linguistic detritus of modern life into loose, surreal narratives."
Not all Shaw's cut-up lyrics are abstract - lines such as 'You're just what England needs / You're going to change us' on the Duchess of Sussex-themed Magic Of Meghan (on 2019's Sweet Princess EP) are wonderfully sardonic, and there's not much sleuthing required to unlock the meaning of new song Conservative Hell (“It was relevant when we wrote it, it’s relevant now, it’s going to be relevant next year," Shaw recently told The Guardian. “I mean, Jesus Christ”) - but even when the themes aren't wholly explicit, the lyrics speak to the shrill, grasping, passive-aggressive white noise bombardment of modern life.
'I'm not here to provide blank, They can fucking provide blank', she mutters on Hot Penny Day, while No Decent Shoes For Rain features the hilarious only-in-a-pandemic (or fetish club, admittedly) lines, 'I've seen your arse but not your mouth. That's normal now.'
Truly, a voice for our time.
The 'boys' in Dry Cleaning are unsung heroes
While it's entirely understandable that Florence Shaw's unique vocal and lyrical stylings have dominated much of the column inches dedicated to Dry Cleaning thus far, in the raw, and particularly here, in the round, the contributions made by Dowse, Buxton and bassist Lewis Maynard are striking. Dry Cleaning's 'boys' served time in a number of metal, alt.rock and hardcore bands pre-DC - November Coming Fire, La Shark, The Guillaume Seam, Sans Pareil among them - and their musicianship is extraordinary, switching up genres, moods and points of attack constantly. As tightly-wound a unit as Dry Cleaning are, heard in isolation, each individual's performance is a masterclass in dynamics and tone. Well in boys!
Seeing Dry Cleaning in rooms this size is a privilege
At the start of 2019, Dry Cleaning could be found playing in grass roots venues such as The Victoria in Dalston and the Bermondsey Social Club: next year the South London quartet's first 'homecoming' show will be at the 4,800 capacity Brixton Academy (or whatever it's called these days).
State-of-the-art nightclub chain PRYZM is no-one's idea of a 'toilet venue' - the electricity bill for the '70s disco-style stage alone could probably underwrite a dozen endangered Music Venue Trust clubs for the next 12 months - but witnessing a band so obviously headed skywards with a couple of hundred hardcore fans feels like a treat and a privilege. Across a 14-song set, Dry Cleaning are never less than captivating, and with Stumpwork likely to replicate the Top 10 success of New Long Leg, the quartet's moves onwards and upwards should be fun to observe.