Peppery dry cleaning ‘New Long Leg’ with bizarre writing, exceptional instrumentals
To listen to “New Long Leg” by Dry Cleaning is to be immersed in the universe of Florence Shaw, the singer of the group. During “New Long Leg,” Shaw ruminates on the mundane, the existential wonder, and the nonsense.
In a vocal style that is more conversational than lyrical, Shaw conjures up images like a broken ceramic shoe, a stuffed llama, and a floating dumpling. Due to his unique style, Shaw’s stories and images never come together. Instead, they linger in the foreground of a song until their inevitable dismissal.
This bizarre lyricism is perhaps most comically visible in the album’s opening song, “Scratchcard Lanyard.” Shaw suddenly shifts from his observation, “I think of myself as a hearty banana / with that waxy surface / and delicate little flowers,” to the thought of “a woman as an aviator pulling a bazooka.”
While Florence Shaw’s lyrics are rather unusual, “New Long Leg” never feels completely random or disorganized. Rather, the album’s distinctive lyrics create unique visual landscapes that serve as a backdrop for Shaw’s observations and stories.
This is clearly displayed on the album’s second track, “Unsmart Lady”. Over the course of the song, Shaw develops a dazzling interpretation of the female experience. Evoking seemingly disparate thoughts and images, Shaw chastises his “Unintelligent Lady” with phrases such as “don’t cry, just drive,” “if you love a girl, be nice / that’s not rocket science” and ” fat podgy / non-up / lady unsmart. “Unsmart Lady” isn’t your typical feminist anthem, but it showcases Shaw’s talents as an intelligent and disciplined songwriter.
While Shaw’s ironic and deadpan vocal delivery method seems like the perfect match for his disorienting lyrics, his technique also leaves “New Long Leg” without vocal melodies. Simply put, Shaw doesn’t sing throughout the LP.
Instead, Shaw’s band members step in with instrumental work that creates the melody for the album. Tom Dowse’s melodic and jangly guitar lines are set to the strong rhythms of bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton. If it is Shaw’s vocals that color the album, it is the other members of Dry Cleaning who give the impetus to “New Long Leg”.
Each of the songs from “New Long Leg” is his own unique conversation, leaving one anxiously awaiting the puzzled landscapes Shaw paints on the musical canvases of his bandmates. This is displayed with an amazing effect on “Its Hippo”. Supported by swirling guitar riffs and a heavy bassline, Shaw fantasizes about running away with his sweetheart on a plane, all the while deciding to drown his romantic sorrows in caffeine. As Dry Cleaning’s focused instrumentals guide Shaw’s bizarre yet moody fun tale, “Her Hippo” exemplifies what the band and “New Long Leg” do best.
Throughout the album, the work of producer John Parish shines. On Dry Cleaning’s 2019 EP “Sweet Princess”, the coldly controlled instrumentation that partly defines “New Long Leg” is absent, with volatile percussion and guitar heroics threatening to completely obscure Shaw’s vocals. However, with “New Long Leg”, Parish seems to have retained these explosive impulses, leaving room for the vocals and the instrumentation of the album to breathe fully.
This restraint is perhaps most visible on the album’s last song, “Every Day Carry”. About halfway through the song, the band’s vocals, drums, and bass completely disappear, leaving the song with only Tom Dowse’s sparse and abrasive guitar work. Rather than closing the album with an avant-garde guitar solo, the rest of the band return to the song with an intensity and tempo that is absent from much of “New Long Leg”. With this energy, the band closely imitates the sound of “Sweet Princess”.
However, “Every Day Carry” never quite transforms into the ill-defined noise of the 2019 EP. The song is carried by the groove of bassist Lewis Maynard. This unique melodic choice not only anchors Dry Cleaning’s mercurial percussion and guitarist, but also allows Shaw Space to explore his angst and frustration. On “Every Day Carry”, the band reproduces the intensity of “Sweet Princess” without completely obscuring what makes their new work unique, making the song a perfect illustration of the growth of Dry Cleaning.
In its entirety, “New Long Leg” is an exciting and disorienting ride through the bizarre sights, sounds and spirits of dry cleaning.