[sic] Magazine

Dry Cleaning – Stumpwork

Don’t shoot the messenger. That artwork is just too much for a few corners of the internet (and not quite enough for others!). We like how deliberately provocative it is, when much of Dry Cleaning’s new album, Stumpwork, is surprisingly restrained, subtle even in comparison. With recording overlapping with parts of its predecessor, New Long Leg, it perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising that Stumpwork (a type of embroidery) is a natural evolution of that work, rather than some shot at the stars.

For all Stumpwork’s abundant, abstract artiness, it often feels too safe however. Much has been made of the band’s increased boldness when it comes to instrumental texture and of them now being “keen to explore more space” and of “using ambience and atmosphere to be a greater dynamic”, but – a few notable flourishes aside – this still translates to guitarist Tom Dowse, drummer/percussionist Nick Buxton, and bassist Lewis Maynard laying down a fairly minimal, yet varied template that gives Florence Shaw all the room she needs, the woozy experimentalism of New Long Leg’s closing track smudged and smeared across Stumpwork’s fabric.

Dry Cleaning’s examinations of everyday tedium are naturally quite deflated experiences at this point, but – with the genie largely out of the bottle when it comes to Shaw’s unpredictable, poetic sprechgesang – the balance here seems off during an intangible middle section devoid of knockout punches. The title track in particular combines throwaway lyrics with throwaway results. An ironically banal, socially awkward listen, it leaves you wondering if you’re on the outside of an inside joke. Happily, Shaw still has a way with witty, unique observation though and, beyond inevitable allusions to lockdown, loss, feminism and withering social commentary, it’s when Shaw gets weird and when the band’s instruments are roused from their slumber that Stumpwork really comes alive.

Stumpwork is not the product of a band willing to break much of a physical sweat however, the intellect instead given a workout via tales of a family tortoise called Gary, the short-lived rush of retail therapy, exotic parasites, flea-market browsing, recommendation logarithms, the mushroom season, and an incident with a Kindle on a trip to Edinburgh. Drum fills meet backmasking in between, shoegazy guitar noise and the whistle of a boiling kettle used alongside sleazy sax and bass funk.

The minimal art-punk of “Anna Calls From The Arctic” comes on likes New Long Leg’s “More Big Birds”, its simmering synth and tasteful swirling drones offering a bed for Shaw to purposefully misconjugate during her conversation with Anna, the pair taking on athleisure fashion, inflation prescience and close-mic’ed humming that recalls that other arty experimentalist, Jenny Hval. “Things are shit, but they’re gonna be OK”, the conversation concludes, before launching into the glorious, summery slacker jangle of “Kwenchy Kups”, which is a giddy as Shaw is at the thought of getting to see some otters. If that sounds a bit cottagecore, don’t worry, Shaw also possesses a very adult vocabulary, swearing – deadpan, delightfully – too and it stings that bit more in comparison. Just as refreshing, two-minute single “Don’t Press Me” threatens literal violence to anyone who touches Shaw’s gaming mouse, as well as aural intensity via slashing guitar and feedback, a cyber threat too via text taken from an old Macintosh computer virus rounding out the assault.

As an album, Stumpwork is all over the place and yet remains uniform, all comers and creeds in a melting pot, which while less than it parts nevertheless still had the stodge to satisfy when taken together.

Best track: “Kwenchy Kups”

~Stumpwork is released October 21st 2022 via 4AD.~