In recent years, post punk (especially in the UK and Ireland) has seen a revival of sorts. Notable releases including Gilla Band’s “Holding Hands with Jamie” (2015), Black Midi’s “Schlagenheim” (2019) and Dry Cleaning’s “New Long Leg” (2021) have all provided newer, more abstract perspectives to the genre–Gilla Band frontman Dara Kiely’s accounts of chicken fillet rolls and bleached moustaches certainly feel a world away from the emotive (and occasionally melodramatic) lyrics one would find on a record like “Disintegration” or “The Queen is Dead”. I have certainly found it intriguing to observe these newer bands’ tendency to shirk sentimentality in their work altogether, but, to me, this reads like a reflection of the neurotic political conditions of the last ten years.
Dry Cleaning’s most popular song, “Scratchcard Lanyard”, involves a string of seemingly unrelated statements spoken by a seemingly disconnected Florence Shaw. In live performances, her apathetic delivery is amplified as she tends to stand almost entirely static, sighing into the microphone, almost rolling her eyes. I absolutely adore this song, most of all for the main hook: “Wristband, theme park, scratchcard, lanyard/Do everything and feel nothing/Do everything and feel nothing”. The line feels like a moment of clarity in a sea of lyrics that bear seemingly little meaning: “I think of myself as a hearty banana/With that waxy surface”. But, others interspersed in verses of nonsense reveal a sense of weariness, or a sort of existential angst: “I’ll be okay, I just need to be weird and hide for a bit/And eat an old sandwich from my bag” “You can’t save the world on your own/I guess”. The music video depicts Shaw wearing a dollhouse on her head and drinking from a tiny glass, singing into a tiny microphone, remaining relatively expressionless all the while. The contrast between the driving, more lively instrumental and the unenthusiastic vocals is reflected as the camera zooms out and we see Shaw standing static, staring right at the viewer with her head trapped in the house, while her bandmates are free to move as they please. The closest ‘canonical’ group I could compare them to would be Talking Heads, due to the warm, prominent basslines and funky guitar tones, but it’s difficult to describe the band in simple terms. The lyrics could be providing an insight into the neuroses of a struggling idealist, driven to near-madness by a monotonous but unrelenting life. The listing of different cities and products, conjures up an image of an individual who is simply going through the motions, doing everything, feeling nothing.
It likely goes without saying that the song resonated with me a lot. When I googled the lyrics for the first time, I discovered that the hook I had become so fixated on had been lifted from a tampon advertisement.
I was reminded again of this song while studying 20th century art movements (including Futurism, Surrealism and, most importantly, Dada) when I came across this quote by Francis Picabia:
“Dada is like your hopes: nothing
like your paradise: nothing
like your idols: nothing
like your heroes: nothing
like your artists: nothing
like your religions: nothing”
This felt like a perfect summation of the movement’s very core; the anger and hopelessness underpinning the amusing and nonsensical works being created. Nihilistic humour from a generation who felt totally disempowered during a time when the upper class acted as the gatekeepers of culture. Studying the writings of Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara (for me) rendered conspicuous the prevalence of their ideas in contemporary art and music in the present day. Of course, the particular genre I’m examining has always been political and often satirical (Morrissey singing “I say, Charles, don’t you ever crave/
To appear on the front of the Daily Mail/Dressed in your Mother’s bridal veil?” immediately springs to mind) but the more cacophonous soundscapes and unusual vocal deliveries of the other bands I have mentioned does seem like a more recent trend in post punk.