Sunday, October 23, 2022

Dry Cleaning - Stumpwork


Yesterday was a good day for those who like to spend a lot of time in record shops discussing whether highly anticipated new record releases are any good or not when they finally arrive. Believe it or not, a certain kind of person actually does this all the time. Or else they're doing something similar on online forums for obsessive types, who come straight off the pages of the High Fidelity script, (mostly blokes, it probably doesn't need adding).

This Friday there were three main candidates up for discussion. The return of the Arctic Monkeys. The new Taylor Swift, and Stumpwork, the much heralded second album from London thirty somethings Dry Cleaning who are rarely mentioned in print without the dreaded appellation 'Post Punk' attached either before or after their name.

For the record neither Arctic Monkeys or Taylor Swift did much for me this time round. I had to take them off fairly quickly. I will try again but my hopes won't be too high. Stumpwork though I found highly enjoyable and would expect to do very well indeed given how in vogue this kind of thing seems to be right now. I can also see myself listening to it quite a bit for quite for a while.

My highly positive response to this record is quite a surprise to me given how I've reacted to listening to previous Dry Cleaning releases as if I've contracted a particularly irritating rash that you can't help but scratch, even though you know it's only going to make things worse.

Dry Cleaning, like many of the bands they're readily grouped with, IDLES, Yard Act, Squid, Black Midi, Shame, you know, the usual suspects, seem to delight in itemising the inescapable deeply set tedium and utterly humdrum boredom of modern adult existence. Mortgages, bank accounts, ring roads, run down high streets, adverts that come round in a loop every fifteen year, trying to be cleverer than your very clever friends all the time. Hopelessness, helplessness, ennui and inner rage and making jokes about it.

But despite my kneejerk resistance to almost everything about this approach, I took to Stumpwork immediately like I kind of expected I would, given the intensive marketing that led up to its release. They seem to be really hitting their stride here.  Everything that worked against them previously works for them now. 

Singer / droner Florence Shaw's deadpan modern or post modern commentary is galvanising  rather than grating and frustrating this time round. The arrangements are inspired. Guitarist Tom Dowse in particular, pulls out all the stops, painting an endlessly shifting musical narrative that hints at Pylon at their finest or that wonderful Life Without Buildings record from the turn of the century that seemed to presage so much of the sensibility this current wave of  guitar bands, Meanwhile the rhythm section is unobtrusive but rock solid.

Both Shaw and Dowse were Art Students and met at the Royal College of Art in 2010 and their journey seems to have reached its moment of fruition. Despite perhaps the most unprepossessing album sleeve of the year, with the letters of Stumpwork written out in pubic hair on a bar of soap, it's actually a fluid and surprisingly coherent statement for a band that thrives on incoherence. It's all rather State of the Art as well as a State of the Nation address in terms of its themes actually, something any band worth their salt strives for but very few get anywhere close to. This is an admirable stab at that. Everything flows.

This probably doesn't mean I'll now relent and become a died in wool convert to this stuff. The standard ingredients of this modern sub-genre, (if you want to call it that).are never that inspiring to me generally. I still kind of dread the arrival of new Black Midi and Black Country New Road product and that's unlikely to change. But kudos to Dry Cleaning for converting me to their own approach to all of this. This is highly listenable and more-ish record which short win them many converts. They're now off on a very, very long World tour which I imagine should advance their cause considerably.

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