Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork Music Album Reviews

Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork Music Album Reviews
The London quartet moves beyond the sardonic post-punk of its debut, exploring new sounds and moods while Florence Shaw reveals hitherto unheard subtleties in her famously low-key delivery.

The past few years have been bad enough—but what if your tortoise also ran away? On “Gary Ashby,” a single from Dry Cleaning’s new album, Florence Shaw mourns a lost family pet while poignant guitar tramps and twirls like the animal itself trotting off. Shaw offers few details about Gary or his fateful flight; all we’re left with is a tragic image of the stumpy-legged critter trapped somewhere upside down, unable to move. It’s a goofy, sad-sweet curveball for this band, whose debut album last year was full of sardonic, barbed-wire post-punk.

Stumpwork was written immediately after New Long Leg came out, but it’s a whole different world, vibrantly expanding Dry Cleaning’s core sound. It’s post-punk but also incandescent slow rock; it’s hardcore vandalized with Dadaist-diary meditations; it’s cold and moody but also lush and friendly, alternately borderline industrial noise or dream pop. Shaw’s delivery is elastic; she’s not just talking here, but sighing, scowling, humming, even singing, although she does it in a solitary, half-aware way, as though dazed in reverie. Sometimes she steps out of the way of the instruments, as on the second half of “Conservative Hell,” an aurora skyline of foghorns, wispy guitar, and slow-motion synth ripples. If “do everything and feel nothing” was the last record’s motto, this one’s could be “do everything and feel wondrously, woozily alive.”

The jump from weary and exasperated to bright and (mildly) optimistic isn’t over the top. It’s more like someone drew back a curtain and let a thin ray of light flood the surface of Dry Cleaning’s music. The sunniest track, “Anna Calls From the Arctic,” is practically hypnagogic rock; Nick Buxton’s drums, Lewis Maynard’s bass, and Tom Dowse’s guitar fall into such gentle lockstep it’s like they’re lifting you to heaven, where you’re met by yawning horns and needling vibrations that seem to unspool for eternity. Even some of the album’s more aggressive cuts, like “Don’t Press Me,” emanate a kind of raw coziness; the video for the song has cartoon versions of the band’s faces rolling around like bouncy balls.

For all the pretty textures, there’s nothing as immediately infectious as the mirroring guitar-bass hook of “Scratchcard Lanyard,” though the soothing gallop of the title track comes close. What distinguishes Stumpwork is the way these songs are built out like landscapes, with micro-climaxes and instrumental passages that pop. There are so many mini-moments of glee: Maynard’s deviously sinewy bass opening up “Hot Penny Day,” or the drums falling away and Shaw crying out, “Is it still okay to call you my disco pickle?” The crushing “No Decent Shoes for Rain” slowly mounts tension until the last minute, when everything explodes in a rush before a shrill chord slashes it into silence. Dry Cleaning’s chief allure isn’t thrashing hooks or show-off vocal prowess, it’s the way these four London friends take cues from each other’s rhythms like they’re brainstorming riffs in real time.

The most electrifying and emotionally resonant rock made right now is often by musicians who aren’t actually steeped in the genre; they work on the fringes, conducting experiments in asphyxiating distortion and running one-person bands from their bedrooms, warping their guitars into shards of gleaming noise over convulsive digital beats. Perhaps that’s one reason Dry Cleaning’s music hits so hard: While the band is highly skilled and grounded in traditional rock scenes, Shaw’s vocals hew toward anti-rock, even though they’re shaped to the instrumental and have a conversational musicality. Their sharpness gives the band’s sound a distinctly visual quality, her voice high in the mix like a backdrop-blurred close-up of someone’s face. In a way, it reminds me of some of the most exciting rap of the last few years, which often use otherworldly vocal styles like snarling, sibilating, and whispering to make more traditional drum presets and patterns feel new again.

Dry Cleaning weren’t the first to do talk-rock, but no one else has Shaw’s enchanting simplicity. Her spoken-word delivery has often been described as stony or blank, an idea she seems to mock at least once on this record: “What I really love is to not use something to its full capacity,” she professes on the title track. There’s an abundance of silliness and emotional subtlety in her minute tone shifts and observational lyrics about everyday life. You can see it conveyed in her low-key facial movements when she performs: eyerolls, a disdainful nose scrunch, the quick flick of an eyebrow. Part of the thrill is the sheer unpredictability of her monologues, where a gaming mouse can stoke interpersonal chaos and flickers of joy suddenly shrivel into disgust: “I thought I saw a young couple clinging to a round baby, but it was a bundle of trash and food.” Even on the most disorienting song, “Liberty Log,” there’s a jolt of levity: “I will risk slow death for Chinese spring roll,” she promises, like a warrior taking a fatal oath.

So much of Dry Cleaning’s emotional pulse rests in Shaw’s words that when they’re forgettable, the music feels declawed. “Driver’s Story,” for example, is lyrically as diffuse and subdued as the slow-grooving instruments. Then again, it would be difficult to follow up New Long Leg with another vault of instantly memorable quotes about bouncy-ball filters and hot-dog daydreams without making it feel gimmicky. Shaw’s real strength lies not in her surrealism but in the way her best lines reach toward eternal truths about the small ways humans survive, like the arrival of a shoe organizer in the mail distracting her from the dysfunction of late-capitalist rot.

Deep in the final track, right before the end, Shaw offers a manifesto for living: “For a happy and exciting life… stay interested in the world around you.” Her poised tranquility makes it difficult to tell whether she’s serious or reading off a Live-Laugh-Love aphorism generator, as she adds, “Keep the curiosity of a child if you can.” These lines felt especially poetic the other night, when Dry Cleaning held an album listening party at a roller-skating rink. After a long workday, I expected to be too exhausted to really enjoy it. But I found myself grinning madly as first-time skaters careened into walls and tiny kids clung to each other for safety while Gary Ashbies and disco pickles flew overhead. Dry Cleaning is all about these glimmers: jaded torpor pierced by genuine smiles and little flashes of human oddity that make wading through all the shit that is life worth it.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork Music Album Reviews Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 01, 2022 Rating: 5


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