Review Summary: Dry Cleaning’s debut is coated in cool, art punk snark. Both to its benefit and its detriment.
I love spoken word vocals. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. I love it when acts, both new and old, both men and women, use monotone vox. I’m an absolute sucker for it. People love saying music is just poetry put to music, and I will admit that there’s truth to that. But vocals like these give that claim way more credence.
I assume you’ve already guessed by now, but London’s Dry Cleaning does the spoken word vocals shtick on this album. Not that it’s come out of nowhere or anything. Their first few EPs prior to this were the same way. They’re students of the school of art-y post-punk after all; acting like you don’t care is a pre-requisite. But I had always thought they did it well. Their laidback, sarcastic attitude may be a turn-off for some, but I just can’t get enough of it.
In that sense, New Long Leg doesn’t offer very much that you couldn’t get from their early work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid outing to be sure. Opener “Scratchcard Lanyard,” the lead single of the album, is a wonderful track that evokes the sound of late-80s alternative rock with an unmistakable cool. Title track “New Long Leg’s” nonsensical ramblings regarding spoons and sundaes are perfectly reined in by the precise, sharp guitar and Shaw’s hushed delivery. I will say that a potential point of contention for some people might be the album’s lyrics, which are intentionally ambiguous and strange. “John Wick,” named after the film character, has nothing to do with the movie in any way, instead focusing on the narrator watching Antiques Roadshow:
“A poster, an Elmo costume, what can I say?”
”A drawstring dog bag, a young guy on a ski holiday.”
I’d say your potential enjoyment of New Long Leg is predicated on two things: 1) your tolerance for snark and 2) your ability to laugh off nonsense. Though, the dry vocals and sparse instrumentation give the band more than enough clearance for that sort of thing in my book.
But as much as I love the deadpan humor on the album, there’s always the worry that the band slips too deep. While I don’t think Dry Cleaning reach that point on this album, there are times when exaggerated shows of apathy are used in place of a solid backbone. The da-da-das peppered throughout “More Big Birds” do little to help the song’s monotonous, single-chord guitar strums. “A.L.C.” is the same way, though with slightly more diverse instrumentation and a solid lyrical focus (daydreaming about going outside while stuck in COVID-19 quarantine).
With the amount of positive press Dry Cleaning has received so far, it’s clear that they have an audience. Deservedly so, in my opinion. They definitely have the flair of a ‘too-cool-for-school’ post-punk group down pat, especially in the vocals department. But as a result, the songs are sometimes a bit undercooked. But for the most part, New Long Leg has more than enough style to get them though those low points. Poet slam finger snaps all around, cats.