Something’s brewing in the brain-soup of Josh Pearman, aka BVDLVD. Something that plenty of his scream-rap peers could also do with tapping into. Could it be…variety? Creativity? The inspiration to leave an impression after three albums that didn’t escape his existing circles? Well, all of the above, really, and it goes without saying that it makes a palpable difference.
As such, the aim of ABSENCE seems to be to smash its scene wide open. This isn’t just blown-out bass and hollow nihilism; they’re still there, but Pearman isn’t hamstrung by that. In fact, the more ‘traditional’ scream-rap is probably where ABSENCE is at its consistent weakest, not just for any attempts to shock and overwhelm that have become extremely passé at this point, but because it’s a cheaper, more slapdash replica overall. It’s not hard to spot why, either—that bass really can do a number when it’s not right, where it’s so underpowered that it sputters out with every hit on TABLE CLOTH, or the complete opposite problem of GET THIS FAR straining and creaking to even contain it. It even sneaks in elsewhere to stain an otherwise decent idea, most notably how the relative delicacy of NUMB’s bedroom-soul finds itself competing with a grunting, fizzling bass that’s so tonally and stylistically at odds.
And the thing is, for so many, that’d be where the conversation starts and ends. It’s a staple within this quarter of hip-hop, both expected and ultimately dismissed nowadays. But ABSENCE does deserve to be spoken about in a different tone, when the conscious efforts to do more are as blatant and, often, successful as they are. Of course the hallmarks remain—the serrated bass; the abundance of sawblades tied around the edge of an already-hostile mix—but as far as plain variety goes, there’s more artfulness to how a notoriously shallow scream-rap formula is remoulded. There’s thicker, clobbering percussion as the basis of AISLE 13 and NON-EXISTENT, and even real drums coming in on the back half of HOME to really save that track. As far as more drastic measures go, the accordion driving the sweatier thrum of AVODLOM emulates the hoedown-rage of Pearman’s former collaborator Lil Darkie; meanwhile, BORED is just a straight-up UK drill track, and HAPPY DEATH, with its cheapo guitar rattles and general stylistic affectations, feels like a homage / parody of Soft Play or The Streets, more than anything.
Overall, it’s the first time in absolutely ages that this style has felt as cool as it sets out to be, pulled off with such an ease that betrays just have far above and beyond Pearman’s creative instincts go. Relatively speaking, that is; he doesn’t find himself locked in place with the scream-rap and trap-metal doldrums, actually having a lot of versatility in his performances and writing that many would struggle to contest with. Yes, the nihilism and destructiveness that’s factory-standard for this kind of thing don’t go away, but at least there’s more to do with it here. There is tangible intensity and nuance to it, and on HAPPY DEATH where it’s played largely for comedy purposes, a sense that Pearman knows what he’s doing by not labouring on a point and wearing it out past an already threadbare norm. It makes a difference, and alongside the tidbits of lyrical flavour that are sparse but effective when they hit—like more than one mention of cutting off former friends for being abusive and even paedophilic on PANIC ATTACK and BORED—there’s a frankly uncharacteristic amount going on here to be filled up by.
On top of that, Pearman is just a far more interesting presence on a purely stylistic level. The screams are, once again, nothing out of the ordinary, but they’re also just an entry point for the bevy of voices and accents and deliveries that colour ABSENCE, that wouldn’t get this amount of shine from similar artists. Even in the deliberate obnoxiousness that’s often fielded, it’s just good to hear this kind of colour and elasticity permeate through. PANIC ATTACK is the obvious forerunner there, with its shrieks and hyperventilation that catch the ear and get you through the door, before the torrent of crowing non-sequiturs abject cartoonishness beats you into submission. It’s a lot, but it’s a way more creative use of the intensity at play. You’re going to remember something like this a lot more than the umpteenth iteration of incorrigible screaming over speaker-frazzling bass.
And that’s really the kicker with ABSENCE, isn’t it? It’s not precisely great—it’s a bit overlong and, obviously within that, its fair share of ideas struggle to land—but it also can’t be overstated how much better a leap like this is than simply going through the motions. This feels like it packs in the freshness scream-rap and its affiliated sub-genres were designed to have, but then became worn down of in record time. ABSENCE, on the other hand, keeps bulging with madcap ideas that the creator at its centre is all too happy to indulge in. Hopefully that continues; the sea change has to start somewhere, after all.
For fans of: Scarlxrd, Lil Darkie, Corpse
‘ABSENCE’ by BVDLVD is released on 29th September on Earache Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall