Stumpwork – Dry Cleaning – ALBUM REVIEW

Stumpwork
Album by Dry Cleaning
Released 21 October 2022
Post-Punk / Indie Rock
Produced by John Paris
Rating – 6.5/10

The sequel!

Those at all familiar with Dry Cleaning will be very aware of the band’s intermittent approach to post-punk. On debut album New Long Leg, released just last year, Tom Dowse’s venturing take on Andy Gill’s worshiped riffing engendered harmony with the bass and drums of Lewis Maynard and Nick Buxton respectively, all to back up Florence Shaw’s now-famous deadpan, spoken-word deliveries, like the unfazed mask of day-to-day English life, clawed open by satirical meta commentary.

Stumpwork is a direct sequel; a gritty, frosted dance amid personal manifestos poeticised by one-take streams of consciousness and crumpled-up rewrites. John Parish returns to produce, with Shaw’s voice foregrounded with added intimacy, like a Seinfeld close-talker. The album being a mere continuation does serve as its primary fault, but it’s always nice to see how post-punk’s opportunism suits the pages of Florence Shaw’s diary.

Page One (okay, I won’t structure the entire review like this). Florence ponders whether to “propose friendship” on Anna Calls From the Arctic, the accompaniment of which is a reflective film montage; new age synth patches, anti-modulation but still a resourceful counter for potential static, as are the frequent movements of bass guitar. It’s a dream state, captured by shower thoughts like “I like it when you can see inside houses from a car. It’s cosy”.

Such musings do sometimes suffer from Alex Turner-itis, but there’s often a handy distraction on offer, see the textbook jangle and foreboding transitions of the title track, diverting from misfit lyrics derived from newspaper clippings (and it shows). The “gaming mouse” quips of Don’t Press Me are accompanied by a recorder, and a true rarity: Florence singing. She also sings on Gary Ashby, a song about a pet tortoise escaping, as if calling the tortoise. Its guitars are both Porl Thompson-esque and Johnny Marr-esque – well, something had to unify those two bands.

Nature-induced optimism squeaks and squawks through Kwenchy Kups, excitedly walking through a zoo of old school post-punk guitar movements, often straddling into something more theatrical, albeit densely. They initially adlib away, unassumingly, before contributing to the flamenco bridge, then taking on sharper, familiar licks on the chorus.

Following the dry stand-up of “if I could live across the road from a boot fair, wouldn’t that be something?”, Hot Penny Day contains so many bursts of life. There’s an imperative spill on the chorus, searchlights that beckon tube-screaming guitars with dramatic chord changes, and saxophones that sound like balloons losing air, contrasting “disco pickle” lyrics with sonic seriousness.

Like two minds in one, Florence’s mumblecore elaboration continues over monologues such as “whilst travelling, a parasite buried itself in my head. It took me over and it had to be removed by a specialist”, belonging to Icebergs. Droning rhythms occupy the space, somehow shifting into glam rock basslines, like David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging with a dislocated shoulder. It’s a moodier mood, much like the daydreams of Liberty Log, as lounging soundscapes accommodate.

Shaw wonders whether she is “part of the meal deal” on Conservative Hell (we’ve all been there), a song title that otherwise speaks for itself. The evil on offer is contrasted by pop riffs and sentimental cutaways – “breathe and remove your shoes”.

While the lyrical-musical chemistry is plentiful, there is less of it than there was on New Long Leg. Over new-fangled, storyboarded memories – “I’ve seen a guy cautioned by police for rollerblading” – and the change brought by Covid restrictions – “I’ve seen your arse, but not your mouth. That’s normal now”No Decent Shoes for Rain sees its paper splodged by arbitrarily-placed paints, as Dowse seems to tinker away out of frame.

With likeminded intentions, Driver’s Story tinkers. Shaw’s deliberately flat “replace with ‘oohs’, oooooh” is self-caricaturising enough, but its fiddling guitar tracks – segmented by riffs with hints of dissonance – traipse half-heartedly. It’s one of the few tunes in which everything sounds blasé, not just Florence’s voice. The drums and basslines are prototypical, jam-worthy if worthy of anything.

Stumpwork could simply be summarised as the sequel that takes on the same components as the original, with few exciting additions; how a lot of people felt about King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon. Eleven new songs for your Dry Cleaning playlist, the breath-on-window talk-alongs continue, with shifting rock instrumentation on par with that of New Long Leg.

Best tracks – Kwenchy Kups – Gary Ashby – Hot Penny Day.
Weakest track – Driver’s Story – No Decent Shoes for Rain.

Rating – 6.5 out of 10

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