Recent history has shown post-punk music to be enjoying somewhat of a resurgence; towards the end of last decade, we saw bands like Fontaines D.C and IDLES catapult the genre back into wider public conciseness and, over the last four years or so, it seems like there is now a wealth of bands and artists taking inspiration from the post-punk sound.
Though the act of placing any given song or artist into a specific box is now an outdated exercise, given that we are, by many accounts, experiencing a post-genre landscape, there are doubtless still strong ties that bind a band’s sound to the area they are from. Dry Cleaning are one of these bands, like many, sprung from the seeds originally planted by the artists that came before; their home soil of South London was once fertilised by The Clash, and they their punky neighbours, Shame, in reviving a family years.
The band formed in 2017 and dropped their first two EPs, the first of which was ‘Sweet Princess’, in 2019. The EPs showcased the band’s subtle and often monotonous spoken-word approach to lyrics (an approach that also seems to be going through a significant flowering period) as well as their guitar focussed instrumentation, which saw the band being compared with the likes of The Wire and The Fall. The formative releases gave the band their introduction, as well as a foundation on which to build their sound, and it’s in this album, their debut, that I feel the true brilliance of the band is shown.
When compared to its proceeding EPs, it becomes clear that the album, produced by John Parish, is the embodiment of both the considerable progression and development of their sound; Lewis Maynard’s moody, low bass lines are crisper, Tom Dowse’s guitar lines are more thematically developed and Nick Buxton’s drumming gives the whole album its infectious, percussive drive. All of these musical elements succeed in creating an open space for front-woman, Florence Shaw to fill with her sludgy, apathetic and figurative lyrics; lyrics that, on initial evaluation, come across as nonsensical and even idiosyncratic, the kind of lyrics designed to throw the listener off course. After repeated listens, however, they become, albeit vaguely, more comprehensible; they appear to be an amalgamation of both eavesdropped conversations and Shaw’s personal experiences, striving to decode too much of the lyrical content, though, is likely to result in some kind of synaptic short-circuit.
As mentioned above, the album is musically well developed; in particular, the bass lines are much more embedded in the overall sound than they are on the preceding EPs and, despite often taking a backseat, they really give the album its heavy, dense sound. The album does give itself room to breathe, however; the guitar parts do well in spreading out and filling the gaps between Shaw’s cryptic lyrics, often acting as the sharp end of the record’s otherwise clunky sound. The culmination of instrumentation is best showcased in the album’s opener, ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’, which begins by foregrounding thick bass lines over high-tempo percussion, and later gives way to Dowse’s guitar and Shaw’s monotonous vocal before finally coming full circle and reverting back to a naked bass line. The use of clunky drum and bass sounds is also prevalent on the album’s title track, the fifth on the record, where the guitar drifts in and out of the foreground and almost disappears completely midway through the track, leaving the bass and drum alone, and providing the album with one of its most sludgy and moody moments.
The general sound of the record gives the impression that it’s an intentional and thought-out next step for the group. An impression particularly underlined by John Parish’s production, which has made the body of the record’s sound tidy and stable. The instrumentation has also allowed the band to prove themselves as more musically capable than the average DIY band; striking a very nice balance between simplistic and complex sounds. The lyrics are, for the large part, the audio equivalent of hieroglyphics but something tells me they’re part of the reason I’ll be coming back ti this record.