Dry Cleaning’s debut album, New Long Leg, is both a lockdown record and an unsettling reminder of pre-’rona normality. On the title track, vocalist Flo Shaw’s spoken-word lyrics deal with sunburnt skin and travel toiletries. In the slogging yet slick ‘Leafy’, Shaw muses about “a tiresome swim” and “knackering drinks”, among other workaday activities and distant memories. The mood she succeeds in creating isn’t one of nostalgia or sentimentality, but one of weariness and, to a lesser extent, new found appreciation for the mundane. Shaw’s off-beat self-talk and stream of consciousness vocals encourage us to consider that while lockdown has been crap at best and devastating at worst, there were elements of life before that are better off consigned to the past, and others, dreary though they may be, that ought to be held dear.
New Long Leg wasn’t written or even demoed in lockdown, but, aided by the introspection of the resultant global standstill, it did come to life during that period. While guitarist Tom Dowse used the time to experiment with noisier, more aggressive guitar tones and bassist Nick Maynard played around with fine and bouncy basslines, Nick Buxton, the band’s drummer, tried out drum machines. Shaw, on the other hand, tightened her lyrics, explaining that, “I found the lockdown played into some of the themes I was interested in anyway: living in a small world, a feeling of alienation, paranoia and worry, but also a joyful revelling in household things.” In June, the band spent two weeks in rural Wales at producer John Parish’s Rockfield Studios, where, guided by his expertise and enthusiasm, they recorded the album.
The album that emerged is a record of greater confidence and refinement than Dry Cleaning’s two EPs, Sweet Princess and Boundary Road Snacks. Here, triviality and meaning compete to create a compelling portrait of ordinary life, one littered with acerbic wit, intricacy and yawning negative space. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than on the album’s opener, ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’, a springy song disconcertingly layered with abstract lyricism and upbeat melodies. On the track, Shaw laments the superficiality of the social media age. No doubt inspired by the topsy-turvy “new normal” of lockdown, she reminds us that commodifying our experiences for the sake of Instagram and increased social capital is simply “to do everything and feel nothing.”
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