Everything about Dry Cleaning reminds me of one of my first definitions of cool as a lonely, displaced kid growing up in Michigan. Over a period of six years, I was in four different schools in three towns, so I was constantly searching for a sense of belonging and identity, all while in the thrones of puberty; ‘twas not the best of times, as Dickens would’ve noted. However, that batch of discovery helped center me in a love of the arts. Writing, choir, musicals, debate, and art class were all places I felt most comfortable, despite growing up in a very sports-heavy household and part of the country. I still have vivid memories of meeting other kids who seemed wiser than possible as young teens – those who already seemed to have a lot of “it” figured out. What I realize now is not that they were all put together or anything, merely that they were comfortable in their own skin and painfully aware of how awkward the world around them was.
The London-based Dry Cleaning were likely completely unrelated to those cool cats in western Michigan, but their excellent debut full-length oozes that same sense of awareness and effortlessness. It’s funny because nothing about New Long Leg was surely effortless. Whether it’s the fantastic musical backdrop – which feels like a modern retelling of Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Smiths with a sub-clinical dose of antidepressants, or vocalist Florence Cleopatra Shaw’s totally unique spoken-word stream-of-consciousness, each song on New Long Leg has a compelling hook and a wealth of intrigue to discover on repeat listens. Their post-punk doesn’t ever quite get into danceable territory, but my poorly-worded bit about antidepressants hints at the idea that there’s a keen focus and feeling of fun that just feels, I don’t know – it just feels cool, you know? Tempos and tones shift as the album progresses, but this sense of fun is pervasive.
The cherry on top is, of course, Shaw’s almost monotoned, surreal vocals, which ooze charm and character. That borderline ADHD brainwave we’ve all developed during quarantine presents itself in this record with a wealth of non-sequiturs, jokes, reflections, and anxieties. Post-punk and new wave were always (at least at the time) for their pointed critique of the state of the world, and some of that was lost with last decade’s post-punk revival. Thankfully, Dry Cleaning pick up that baton wonderfully, making New Long Leg feel more timeless and timely than most recent records have in this style.
It all coalesces into a record brimming with personality, punch, and power that is impossible to ignore. Aside from a tiny bit of a lull at the end, there’s little to complain about, and a whole damn lot to love about this debut. This is art-y post-punk for the lost, lonely, and it’s cool as hell. Dry Cleaning are so fresh and so clean.
Order/stream the album at Bandcamp.