Sometimes, to paraphrase that Nietzsche chap, if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss forms a four piece, post-punk influenced band and gazes back.
Dry Cleaning are said band, from South London, and this, their debut album, is characterised by Tom Dowse’s brittle guitar, low rumbling bass by Lewis Maynard, Nick Buxton’s calamitous drumming and ennui-drenched, stream-of-consciousness mutterings from vocalist Florence Shaw. How you will react to this album all depends on how pleasing you’ll find this sound, which is a real paradox: the wildness of the music sharply contrasts with spoken words, which are often wilfully opaque, and seemingly governed by Shaw’s own logic.
Produced by PJ Harvey legend John Parish in Rockfield Studios, Wales, it’s confident sounding, but it is going to divide people. That’s great – in an instant playlist-heavy world where Phoebe Bridgers is considered “an indie rock goddess” by certain music websites, it’s nice to have a genuine alternative that doesn’t want to play it safe, or pander to niches. Dry Cleaning are very much their own genre.
Shaw’s deadpan poetry ranges from observations on modern day numbness “doing everything; and feeling nothing” (Scratchcard Lanyard) to uncomfortable banality – “I’ve been thinking about eating that hot dog for hours” (Strong Feelings) but often, her utterances are buried too low in the music.
The band are brilliant musicians – the title track has a Brix Smith gnarliness and beauty – Dowse’s whirlwind guitar playing is exceptional. But sometimes, the unique conceit detracts from the sound itself.
Even more ironically, it seems Shaw can actually sing – she offers some pretty, cooing vocals on the hypnotic, Laurie Anderson-like More Big Birds – but it would be nice to hear her sing more, instead of just the dark half-monologues which make up most of the lyrics.
Still, even if they are a one trick pony, it’s an impressive trick, and there’s loads of potential. Leafy has a Wire post-punk/funk wiggle as it dismantles notions of middle England idyll. The best track by far is Unsmart Lady, which takes the blistering blueprint of No New York‘s no-wave era and smashes it together with a Sabbath guitar howl. It’s like witnessing a tornado, albeit from a safe distance.
Essentially, in the right mood, Dry Cleaning are worth a listen – if only to escape mainstream streaming services and persistent, insistent algorithms.