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Live / stage review

Dry Cleaning: Sparkle-eyed wit and droll delivery signal new direction for postpunk

Circular riffs and a tight rhythm section form a perfect framework for the Sprechgesang seer's droll vignettes.

26 February 2022 at

"Just an emo dead stuff collector, things come to the brain," Dry Cleaning frontwoman Florence Shaw informs a packed Leadmill in her trademark detached drawl. The south London four-piece are without doubt the reigning doyens of Sprechgesang (literally 'speak-sing'), which depending on who you ask is either a bracing new direction for the postpunk resurgence or as irritating as nails on a blackboard (some writers have asked whether we've already reached "landfill Sprechgesang").

But there’s a sparkle-eyed wit to Shaw's words that set Dry Cleaning apart from the lumpen, on-the-nose polemicising of their lesser contemporaries. On set opener 'Leafy' from last year's New Long Leg she recalls "an exhausting walk in the horrible countryside" and "knackering drinks with close friends," while 'More Big Birds' finds Shaw "in control in the kitchen area, I run a tight ship / Spatula pot and crumb tray, a wipeable place."

It's not all about the words. Guitarist Tom Dowse struts about the stage constructing the kind of looping, angular riffs that The Fall got down to an artform in their more disciplined moments. This approach is particularly effective on the heavy stomp of 'Unsmart Lady' and 2019's 'Traditional Fish', which even finds Shaw singing a bit as she drolly wonders, "Who's the Pride of Britain?"

This is a band inescapably of their time. The collaged lyrics capture the banality of big city life under neoliberalism, a kind of post-viral malaise peppered with the clutter of late capitalism ("wristband, theme park, scratchcard, lanyard..."). There's an interesting forerunner here in Glasgow's late nineties one-album wonder Life Without Buildings, with the same stylised delivery and abstract imagery (like that band, Shaw and Dowse met at art school), but here the idea comes fully realised, any vocal inflection flattened out and deadpanned.

Debut single 'Magic of Meghan' gets the biggest reaction of the night, not least because the band remind us that the Sheffield-set video was directed by our own Lucy Vann. Over nimble rhythm section work from Lewis Maynard and Nick Buxton, the song finds Shaw adopting an uncharacteristically sincere register, noting that Markle is "just what England needs – you're going to change us." The band close with something approaching a jam track, all swirling guitars and phaser pedals as the singer disappears back into her words.

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