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Richie Culver - Scream If You Don't Exist LP

Richie Culver - Scream If You Don't Exist LP

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With Scream If You Don’t Exist, Richie Culver metamorphoses from outsider musician to underground fixture, feeling his way from the fringes towards a growing community of musicians that have gravitated towards his singular sound world. Building upon the stark catharsis of his previous dispatches, on his sophomore album the artist draws from grimdark drone, industrial noise, experimental hip-hop and UK rave to map out a space for himself, caught between genre and discipline. While on his debut, I Was Born By The Sea, Culver took a last glimpse back at his grey, salt-flecked past while struggling towards somewhere brighter, here, he documents the process of finding fresh waters, parsing through the complexity of inhabiting a more open and optimistic place while contending with the weight of his resolve, staring hard won self-acceptance in the face. The album’s title speaks to this creative and emotional work, serving both as the foundational paradox from which the artist’s new discordant sound emerges and as a call to action, a defiant cry in the face of existential angst.

Part of this process involves visiting familiar territory with renewed focus. Macabre opener ‘Hottest Day Of The Year’ signals an unpleasant memory with crow caw, queasy, gas leak ambience and dental drill whir as Culver recalls a life lived in nihilism: “Everything is just something that happened / Reductionism, muscles spasms, a mother’s first contraction.” Yet, on Scream If You Don’t Exist, Culver’s irresistible formula for ragged machine poetry is shot through with palpable urgency. No longer listless and despairing, he finds new intricacies for these compositions, tracing a stark interplay between crushing bass excavations and penetrating vocal clarity, a contrast picked out in the delicate threads of rhythmic pulse suggesting themselves in the blunt pressure and skittering creep of ‘Weakness’, on which Culver offers up vulnerability as a tentative solution to self-described emotional constipation: “Please do / Do take my kindness for weakness / For I am weak / And that is ok.” The amniotic soundscape of ‘YOLO (then u die)’ gives way to depth charge drone and unnerving machinic improvisations, like a noise show heard from deep in the Mariana trench, while on ‘Underground Flower’ the low-end fog lifts to reveal a brighter, colder scene. “Love me for who I could be / Not who I am,” he pleads, tending gently to his own tenacious bud.

Scream If You Don’t Exist gives us a glimpse of this flower in bloom. On the album’s cursed self-help tape title track stuttering loops of off-kilter keys and childlike repetition make light of the very real risk of disappearing all-together, a nervous breakdown rendered as a malfunctioning nursery rhyme. Paranoiac anthem ‘Say 4 Sure’ introduces bit-crushed boom-bap stomp, as though hammered out on a water-logged Game Boy, swarms of loose-wire noise sparking up against guttural grunts and ragged exhalations, while ‘On The Top’ enacts a seance for the hardcore spirit, with loops of rave piano and hiccuping vocal chops pirouetting through knackered samples, air raid sirens and the ghostly crash of breakbeat cymbals. As though in response to the solitary nature of much of his musical exploration, this time, the artist invites other voices into the world of Scream If You Don’t Exist. On ‘Swollen’, the unflinching, brimstone prophecy of Billy Woods sounds clear through an expanse of spirallic bass, preaching the same frayed gospel as Culver when he issues the quietly devastating contemporary diagnosis: “Computer broke but it still works for now / That’s the best you can say for most of us anyhow,” while another fearless correspondent from the fringes, Moor Mother, brings earthbound heft to the ambient drift and obliterating barrage of ‘Restaurants,’ teasing out meaning with elongated intonation and pitch-shifted intensity.

It’s during the album’s most meditative moments that we might recognise this space Culver has found for himself for what it really is. ‘OMG They’re Gone’ follows a chopped and slowed monologue from Culver’s wife, who works as a death doula, reflecting on her own experiences with grief and the reality of living within a culture both terrified and ignorant of the process. Floating over glistening ebb, etherised croons and luminous chimes, her words stand as a prescient reminder of the power of ephemerality. Just as Culver flourishes in imperfection, here we can find enormous strength in transcience. But it’s with ‘Just Jump In,’ which unfurls like a buoyant counterpart to the sparkling oil rigs of ‘I was born by the sea’, that Culver illuminates the hopeful waters we realise we’ve been making our steady way towards. “I know now / That you loved me,” he admits, a revelation a lifetime in the making. Through the rawest reflection Culver has found a way forward, driven by an optimism drawn from a resolve to be better, to love and be loved, an admission to weakness and the discovery of a new kind of strength. “Don’t test the water,” he reassures us and himself, “just jump in.”

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