Stumpwork

Oct 20, 2022
Web Exclusive

By Scott Dransfield


Like many young bands in 2022, Dry Cleaning have an origin story that’s difficult to separate from the effects of the COVID pandemic and its associated quarantines. Last year’s debut album, New Long Leg, was recorded quickly and disjointedly during lockdown. Now, after months of touring and some successful festival sets, they return with their excellent sophomore record, Stumpwork, which explores the effects of isolation, connection, and the lack of it, delivered as only vocalist Florence Shaw can.

Dry Cleaning’s hook (or deterrent, if you don’t like talk-singing) is, as ever, Shaw’s deadpan recital of non-sequiturs overtop guitar-led post-punk. Where in New Long Leg the idea was crunch; in Stumpwork the idea is jangle. In fact, the vibe this time around is less anxious, with more keyboard textures and a more deliberate pace, not to mention a whole lot of melodies per square inch. The ’80s-R.E.M.-reminiscent “Kwenchy Kups” and highlight “Gary Ashby” pack the triple-punch of catchy melody, cool chord progression, and sick guitar tone. Most of the tunes here are quick and tight, but a few songs in the album’s second half sprawl out, like the contemplative “Liberty Log.” Overall Stumpwork has a more compelling and consistent flow than any of Dry Cleaning’s past output.

So yes, the band rocks even better on this album, but once again the real star is Shaw and her poetry-recital vibe. And I do mean poetry—her lyrics are completely distinct, obliquely observational, and oddly metered. “Weird premise/Weird premise/Staying in my room is what I like to do anyway/If you like this…you may like…” Shaw says at the beginning of “Liberty Log,” which along with the gaming mouse shouted out in “Don’t Press Me” and the line “Woah, just killed a giant wolf!” suggest lyrics borne of time alone at home, gaming on PC, and watching Netflix. She’s also got a knack for absurd imagery (“I thought I saw a young couple clinging to a round baby/But it was a bundle of trash and food”) and purposefully unfinished lines (“I’m not here to provide blank/They can fucking provide blank”). Her mostly tuneless delivery may not be for everyone, but in consideration of her lyrical style and the band’s knotty arrangements, it really coheres in a satisfying way.

Dry Cleaning may not get mentioned in the same breath as other young London art-rock groups like black midi or Squid, but they should. Stumpwork proves that this band’s style has legs. (www.drycleaningband.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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