“I think of myself as a hardy banana, with a waxy surface and small, delicate flowers,” Florence Shaw observes coolly toward the midpoint of the London band Dry Cleaning’s new single. She follows this image with a more violent one, delivered in the same detached tone and repeated for good measure: “A woman in aviators firing a bazooka/A woman in aviators firing a bazooka.”
Shaw tosses out these shards of odd poetry while her three variously shaggy bandmates rock out around her, making “Scratchcard Lanyard” sound sort of like walking into band practice with the sudden ability to read the mind of someone across town. This is how Dry Cleaning’s songs work — they’re all stylish post-punk riffs with an unsettling lack of context. They made two great EPs in this style last year, and in early March 2020 they played some of the last rock shows in the U.S. before the pandemic shutdown. In Brooklyn, Shaw read lyrics off of a sheet-music stand while guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard, and drummer Nick Buxton worked themselves into a frenzy. Drunk, sweaty people were halfway-moshing to “Viking Hair” (another song that mentions a banana in the lyrics), catching up with friends, and spilling their beers.
You can’t do that kind of thing anymore, but you can listen to “Scratchcard Lanyard.” This is Dry Cleaning’s first single since signing to the venerable U.K. label 4AD, and it has all the strange allure of their 2019 output, plus a little extra verve and polish courtesy of PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish. In the video, Shaw performs with her head stuck inside a miniature model of one of the rock clubs we all wish we could be visiting right now. There are little figurines representing the people dancing, the bartender, and the DJ. Shaw’s affect stays blank as the camera zooms out to reveal her bandmates performing on a soundstage: “Thanks very much for the Twix!” The surreal setting suits the song, which is something you might have put near the end of a mixtape for your friend who liked art films and moody British rock in 2003. Is it a dream or a nightmare? Either way, we’ll take a few minutes of much-needed escape.
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