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The challenge for English group Dry Cleaning: how to follow up such a distinctive debut—2021’s critically huzzah’d New Long Leg—without simply repeating themselves? Not many highbrow rock bands have gimmicks, but credit to the South London quartet for having a novel one: a woman vocalist/percussionist (Florence Shaw) who recites her lyrics in a dispassionate, verging on disdainful tone, as if reading diary entries into a state-of-the-art microphone. It’s an ear-catching approach, but it wouldn’t work so well without the three other instrumentalists’ incisive post-punk moves.
Supporting that album at Neptune Theatre two years ago, Dry Cleaning delivered a taut 55-minute demonstration of the LP’s sinewy and mutedly radiant rock. Shaw demurely augmented her droll non-sequiturs with comically slack tambourine-tapping. The phrase “so wrong it’s right” seemed apt.
Now with second album Stumpwork, Dry Cleaning have expanded their sound palette (dig the bulbous funk of “Hot Penny Day”), mellowed their rock a bit, and continued to push Shaw’s wayward words to the fore. She even quasi-sings on the effulgent “Gary Ashby” and the hard-charging “Don’t Press Me.” By subtly tweaking their winning style, Dry Cleaning have avoided the sophomore slump. “Things are shit but they’re gonna be ok,” Shaw blasély intones on “Kwenchy Kups,” which is about as hopeful as anyone has a right to be now.
📸: Courtesy 4AD | Dry Cleaning