Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork review – deadpan chat, funk and hypnotic soundscapes

The follow-up to last year’s fine debut New Long Leg is more focused, with Florence Shaw’s low-key narration framed by powerful sounds

Dry Cleaning’s second album isn’t a radical departure from last year’s outstanding New Long Leg. Florence Shaw still has the laconic, deadpan delivery of someone idly chatting over a garden fence. However, everything is slightly more refined, melodious and focused. Shaw has honed her lyrics. A mix of teasing scene setters (“It’s so good to meet you but not here, not here obviously”), deadpan non-sequiturs (“dog sledge people”) and occasional barbs at the state of Britain (“nothing works, everything’s expensive and opaque and privatised”) are delivered wonderfully just short of dispassionately. In a parallel universe she could be a newsreader, storyteller or star of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.

Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork album cover
Dry Cleaning: Stumpwork album cover. Photograph: Annie Collinge and Rottingdean Bazaar

The band’s hypnotic soundscapes frame her words perfectly. Guitarist Tom Dowse channels Pavement and Johnny Marr and the rhythm section bring the funk, most groovily on Hot Penny Day, which laces domesticity with danger (“Are those exposed wires good near the steam?”). Aside from the sung chorus of the jangly Don’t Press Me, this is narration rather than sprechgesang, but Shaw’s delivery gives everything a controlled power and tracks repeatedly hit the spot. Kwenchy Cups and Gary Ashby (about, of all things, an escaped family tortoise) have glorious tunes. The guitars excel on No Decent Shoes for Rain. The pregnant pause in Driver’s Story works brilliantly. Conservative Hell hits home with oblique language and a woozy, jazzy sax solo, somehow saying nothing yet so much (“they’re trying to mythologise everything”) inside four dazzling minutes.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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