Believe the hype about New Long Leg, the debut album by this young and profoundly distinctive South London quartet
You have, no doubt, heard a lot about this album, which has quickly emerged as one of 2021’s most hyped releases.
Hype is like a stopped clock: It usually has nothing to do with the listener or the quality of the artist, and merely tells us about the author’s insecurity and lack of invention…and, uh, it’s correct every now and then. But here’s a very strange fact. New Long Leg not only deserves this flood of attention, it is one of those debut albums that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you go, ‘Ah, I KNEW there was actually a difference between the trendy and insufferable stuff shoved down my throat that I settle for, and the stuff that actually makes you excited to have ears, eyes, and a heart.’
Embrace New Long Leg, the debut album by this young and profoundly distinctive South London quartet. It is a treasure. From first to last, it is a rich, original, warm, provocative-but-not-overthought and deeply engaging adventure. It is the kind of album that will be quoted, cited, memorized, and used to bookmark a small or large time in your life. Now, I am old, so my reference points are old. But to a contemporary listener (who is between, say, 17 and 25) I would hope and suspect that New Long Leg will be a treasured mnemonic and landmark, much in the same way that my generation regarded – both at the time, and through the fog of time –English Settlement, Fables of the Reconstruction (which New Long Leg bears some specific resemblance to), 16 Lovers Lane, The Queen is Dead, the Bends, or The Suburbs. In other words, New Long Leg isn’t just nihilistic, whimsical, ear-catching college rock that the critics jump all over because it has that stink of the vague notion that it is being made by people with the same snark and reference points as us. New Long Leg is a unique moment in the arc of jangle pop, and it is unapologetically great, from first to lasts. A great record says, “You will know us by the tribes and trail of forever friends who gather under our flag.” New Long Leg is that kind of record.
Artist: Dry Cleaning
Album: New Long Leg
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
It is easy, perhaps, to mistake New Long Leg for one of two things: the first, most obviously, is to suppose that Dry Cleaning “just” do spoken word over very competent guitar-based jangly post punk.
But vocalist Florence Shaw is not doing spoken word. These verses are full of prosody and pause, and the suggestion of melody. Shaw uses speech-in-song in much the same way that Leonard Cohen, Mark E. Smith, and especially Serge Gainsbourg used it: the melody is inferred and drawn in light pencil; others can (and will) extract it and elaborate on the lilt and hint that is already there. Shaw is most definitely a singer, not a poet or a monologist, who happens use melody implicitly as opposed to explicitly (once again we site parallels to Gainsbourg or PiL-era John Lydon; I also found myself thinking, again, and again, of the sing-speech of The Threepenny Opera). Likewise, Shaw is not just dryly recounting the things she sees and reacts to; her venue is the way we allow what we see to bubble, burble, singe, burst and torture us, so she is more John Lydon than Phoebe Waller Bridge. Her lyrics are a compilation of all the things we cling to in the absence of awareness. A great artist can take our constant samsara flipbook of stories, anger, repeated myths, and fear and make it cinematic. Oddly (because I haven’t seen anyone else note this), I find Shaw most comparable (especially as a lyricist, but as a vocalist as well) to John Lydon. Both Lydon and Shaw collate bits of advertising and inner monologue wrapped up in nihilism and non-attachment, resulting in something that’s has enormous conventional emotional power, yet also has the artistic heft of a Tristan Tzara or Duchamp readymade.
The rest of the band (guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton) matches the power of their magical vocalist, and then some. In fact, it was Dry Cleaning’s musical aspect (dry/wet arpeggiated chimes that walk the tightrope between luxury and tension over tight and fluid trebly rhythms — imagine Pete Buck joining Pylon) that first attracted me to their records.
This leads us to the second major error of perception that has been made about Dry Cleaning. Again and again, their music has been compared to the Magazine/Joy Division/Rough Trade/Factory model of Post Punk. This simply is not accurate, and it is beyond lazy. Dry Cleaning’s (re)interpretation of Post Punk comes from a far more different and inventive setting. I cannot aver that this is intentional, but when I listen to New Long Leg, I am hearing a band with very firm (but not exclusive) roots in American post punk, specifically the Television-via-Athens/Winston Salem-via-Hoboken minimalist jangle. The musical landscape on New Long Leg is creamy and electric, fluid but full of Escher stairs and low-hanging branches and wires. It is pervasively dusted with the edgy hypnotics of Krautock or the Feelies, and the slightly speedy/slightly beery skip and jangle of early R.E.M. (I also feel Wire’s Chairs Missing is a faint but pervasive musical reference, and honestly, the only readily detectable English influence.) Again and again I found myself thinking that New Long Leg lives in the same zip code as R.E.M.’s Chronic Town, and early R.E.M. appears to be a pervasive influence on the skipping, steady chime of New Long Leg (in fact, the big giveaway, perhaps, is that “John Wick” directly cribs the winding guitar tag from “Begin the Begin”).
VIDEO: Dry Cleaning “Scratchcard Lanyard”
Oddly, Dry Cleaning often ends up sounding almost bizarrely like Love Tractor…like WEIRDLY so. It is certainly possibly that Shaw, Dowse, Maynard and Buxton are unfamiliar with Pylon and (the more obscure) Love Tractor, but it is a bit shocking how much Dry Cleaning frequently resemble both bands. I mean, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a band that listened to Love Tractor ALL the time.
Listen, the mainstream is hard on the lookout for New Champions of Stream-Era Sincerity, especially as the Former Queen of Dour Authenticity, Billie Eilish, seems to be shifting gears and setting herself up as just some more John Mayer Bait. So there is a LOT of hype around Dry Cleaning, who are smart, listenable, and likable. But I am delighted to alert you (via these keyboard taps into the talc-like silence of web obscurity) that Dry Cleaning and New Long Leg is worth the fucking hype, in spades. It is a near perfect, smart old/new college rock record, and don’t let the attention frighten you away. This is a goddamn good record, deep but light to the ears, full of history, full of now, full of gravity, full of wit. It reminds us that the greatest Post Punk did not just come from a place of shadows, but a place of joy, even silliness, even if we all read too much and over share our feelings.