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CD of The Week

Week of 11/14/22

    Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork (4AD)

    South London post-punk revival quartet Dry Cleaning are not for everyone (and the unapologetically gross cover for the new album, Stumpwork, may not be for anyone). Dry Cleaning’s most notable feature is the offbeat, wry lyrics of frontwoman Florence Shaw, who tends to speak in droll monologue over the angular and often challenging music performed by the other members of the band. Their first album, New Long Leg, followed in a clear tradition laid out by bands such as Wire, The Fall, and Sonic Youth, but spoke to contemporary concerns through Shaw’s singular observations. Stumpwork broadens the sonic blueprint in ways that are very satisfying, but the album may still feel a bit prickly for those not on its wavelength.

    Stumpwork’s most notable distinction from New Long Leg is the jangly quality of Tom Dowse’s guitar on many of the 11 songs. There’s a more sedate vibe to “Kwenchy Kups” and the title track which do not always mix with Shaw’s darkly humorous non-sequiturs. In a similar vein, but much better is “Gary Ashby,” a hooky, oddly touching song about a lost family tortoise where Shaw successfully attempts more conventional singing at times. While no one would mistake her range for that of Florence Welch, Shaw’s repeated pleading for the titular reptile suits the song brilliantly.

    The other highlights on Stumpwork come mostly when either the vocal delivery and/or the instrumentation are a bit more aggressive. For instance, “Hot Penny Day” features a sinister bass line and odd saxophone squalls as Shaw rants against “male violence everywhere.” Meanwhile, the sprawl and tension of “Liberty Log” is captivating in its depiction of algorithm-inspired isolation.

    Despite being released just over 18 months after New Long Leg, Stumpwork showcases a great amount of growth and an admirable willingness to mess with expectations. There’s a real variety in style, tone, and tempo and while not every individual song works, the adventurousness embedded throughout cements Dry Cleaning as a band worth following, assuming one is on board with Shaw’s deadpan vocal style and the emphasis on groove over conventional song structure.

    Dry Cleaning will be in Philadelphia playing at Union Transfer on February 1st, 2023.
    Review by Sol

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