Music Reviews
New Long Leg

Dry Cleaning New Long Leg

(4AD) Rating - 9/10

In 1978, Daniel Miller was both inspired by and fed up with punk. Enamored with the attitude, he thought it was bullshit that anyone had to learn three whole chords to make it on the scene; he reckoned he could do it with a single note. So he bought a cheap synth, grabbed his copy of J.G. Ballard’s Crash (a novel that “investigated the erotic possibilities of a car crash,”) and recorded Warm Leatherette. The song—hardly a song, but a hypnotic buzz of spoken word electronica—would be the B side to the only studio single he’d ever release, on a record label he created for that very purpose. It was a sleeper hit, and likely the accidental progenitor of minimal wave.


Miller had proven his point. He wasn’t a musician; he just wanted to demystify rock and make it mundane. He penned Warm Leatherette’s stark lyrics with such a dense veil of disaffection and banality that the obvious eroticism has an almost comical air. He even called himself The Normal to really drive that point home.


And what does any of that have to do with post-punk revival redux group Dry Cleaning? Apart from the heavy-handed quotidian appellation, maybe not much at first glance. But I can’t help but think of the reaction Dry Cleaning’s original three-piece set must have had when their new vocalist, Florence Shaw, read Michael Bernard Loggins’ Fears Of Your Life over a backing track and all the pieces fell into place. Shaw isn’t a musician. A “visual artist, picture researcher, and drawing lecturer,” she was every bit the reluctant protagonist. So seemingly ill-equipped at surface level to front a band, with no vocal range or dramatic emotional presence to boast, it’s alarmingly satisfying how effective she is in the role. Eventually moving on from found text to her own writing, Shaw has created a neverending monotonous monologue that’s somehow captivating.


Boredom has never been so sexy since Warm Leatherette. It’s that same heavily blasé energy that runs through New Long Leg, a sonic cigarette hanging off the bottom lip. The effect is one of arriving at a stranger’s house party far too late, stumbling through strange crowds in search of a familiar face. You catch snippets of dialogue that don’t quite seem to make sense. Maybe because everyone has had one too many, or maybe because you just don’t have the context. If only you weren’t too socially awkward to insert yourself into the conversation: “I’ve come to learn how to mingle/I’ve come to learn how to dance/I’ve come to join a knitting circle.” 


New Long Leg was constructed in pieces on a wiped-down, passed-around tape deck—the new pandemic normal. It could easily have suffered for it, but the production is masterful. On Unsmart Lady, the tracks are layered so purposefully that when the guitar trickles away every few measures leaving a moment of bare bass, it’s like a curtain of water parting. It yields the floor for Shaw’s punchiest lyric (“If you like a girl, be nice/it’s not rocket science,”) before dissolving into a fiercely rugged but painfully short guitar riff that takes us breathlessly up and over the climax and into the denouement. This push and pull between instruments and vocals, cleverly punctuated with just the right amount of silence, is what gives New Long Leg its seductive tension.


It’s not wrong to compare Dry Cleaning to post-punk bands. It’s unavoidable. Hell, you could pluck the bassline from Leafy and drop it right into Marquee Moon. But there’s something more complex, something constantly familiar in every track that’s enough to trigger the tip of the tongue phenomenon for 41 minutes straight. The pastiche of influences can feel overwhelming at times. The Velvet Underground, Kim Gordon, Pavement, The Fall, Television, and even Electrelane and Yo La Tengo all have their spot in the pantheon. But for all that, the record is cohesive and original. It’s a stream of consciousness story told the same way it was recorded: fragments pieced together into one nonchalant whole.


Warm Leatherette was Daniel Miller’s proof that anybody could write great music. Even three chords were too much for him, so he got his Korg 700S and droned the same words over the same single sawtooth wave until it became an inexplicable hit. With her dry affect and lackadaisical approach to songwriting, Florence Shaw’s entire essence does him proud. Unlike The Normal, though, Dry Cleaning have far more talent than they do irreverence. How satisfying, then, that where Miller was one and done, they’ve only just gotten started. [Believe the Hype]