Compared to their first releases ‘Sweet Princess EP’ and ‘Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks EP’, Dry Cleaning’s debut album ‘New Long Leg’ felt like a band coming into their own and finding themselves in the expanse of an oversaturated musical landscape. It might’ve only taken two years to get to that point, but their journey of exploration is clearly mapped along the way.
Joining Dry Cleaning might have been the furthest thing in the mind of vocalist Florence Shaw during their earliest jam sessions and rehearsals but on their second album ‘Stumpwork’, the writer comes into her own. Despite the fact that their debut felt as though Shaw was leaning into lyrical ambiguity to steer the gaze away from herself, it was still delivered from the personal perspective of a woman in her 30s who had begun to notice that the world looked a little differently; where you notice more shame towards your appearance and personal life choices. ‘Unsmart Lady’ spoke about body image, whilst ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ delved into societal pressure.
But of course, before all of this, it was the light-heartedness of ‘Magic of Meghan’ that made listeners take stock in the band. The essence of this song and its ability to captivate listeners was always going to find its way into ‘Stumpwork’. There’s a magic in Shaw’s nonchalant, laconic vocals which are socially aware, but never verbose. “Nothing works / Everything’s expensive and privatised”, she sings on ‘Anna Calls From The Arctic’ which feels like it comes from a similar stream of consciousness as when she says “Every day is a dick”, in ‘Her Hippo’ from their debut album. Despite the fact that ‘Stumpwork’ was written before ‘New Long Leg’ was released in 2021, it’s still as on the nose as ever. How appropriate is it to have a song called ‘Conservative Hell’ just days after the news that PM Liz Truss is resigning after 45 days in office?
Dry Cleaning were a breath of fresh air for taking the mundanity of everyday life and eclectic YouTube comments as inspiration for their sound, and now they appear to be rolling with the breeze. On the whole, ‘Stumpwork’ is reminiscent of letting out a sigh after a long period of tension. Whilst nonsensical ramblings make up ‘Driver’s Story’, and instrumentally, ‘Gary Ashby’ could serve as a postlude to ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’, there are still moments of ingenuity. From aqueous funk basslines and almost jarring saxophone trills in ‘Hot Penny Day’ to the Rautalanka undertones of ‘Conservative Hell’, and the Sonic Youth-eqsue energy between album closers ‘Liberty Log’ and ‘Iceberg’, you can tell that even though Dry Cleaning know the formula that works for them, they’re also quite happy to be more experimental.