If I was forced to name one artist I’ve been truly excited about since starting this blog, I’ve would probably blurt out Autre Ne Veut without thinking too much. “Counting” was an astonishing single, just as “Play By Play”, and I ended up naming both as Instant Classic‘s. So naturally my expectations of Anxiety where at alerting heights.
This newfound R&B craze on the indie scene started to happen just around the time Arthur Ashin released his debut under his Autre Ne Veut moniker. Now, I suspect that he was cleared free of the initial hype; mostly directed towards How To Dress Well and The Weeknd. That only lasted until the release of last year’s “Counting”.
But to the frank, although Autre Ne Veut might fall into a broader definition of R&B, and is labeled as such mostly due the ongoing hype of the genre, at the core this is basically pop music that sounds just as avant-guarde as when Talking Heads or Prince started to find their way into a broader sense of what could be addressed as pop. Ashin’s soundscape is chaotic and anxious (as the title suggests) and he uses the synthesizers not only as a way to construct melodies, but also as a tension-builder between different structures and dispositions.
The two preceding singles starts off the album in a spectacular way, but raises the question whether Ashin might’ve fired all his bullets in the first 9 minutes. However, Ashin manages to maintain the high level across the first half of the album. “Promises”, the third track is a fierce show-off in firing percussion (think of Portishead’s “Machinegun”), combined with euphoric hands-in-the-air synthesizers and jittery cut-up vocals. The track is way too short, almost makes you think it’s some kind of interlude, but this is ultimately Ashin’s strength; delivering tracks without a clear comprehendible structure that leads to an astonishingly high elements of surprise. “Promise” is followed by “Ego Free Sex Free”, possibly the climax of the album. The refrain is the most immediate on the whole album, delivered in such a slick and sexy matter that it would make Prince green of envy (he even throws in an electric guitar at the end, just to be sure).
The energetic 4-track momentum is contrasted by the albums fifth and most restrained track “A Lie”. The track contains some complex and unconventional melodies, making it a rewarding grower that deserves a couple of spins to fully clutch. However with “A Lie”, the momentum initially built-up, fades and never fully recovers. The second half is still a decent one with a continued blend of chaotic production and well utilized vocals, but it doesn’t grab hold in the same way and ultimately I end-up revisiting the first half instead.
For somebody who (like me) has a huge heart for anything even remotely similar to Prince – hearing Anxiety is like Christmas-eve for a 7-years old. It’s one of those albums that reward multiple back-to-back listening, leading constantly to new discoveries; God is definitely in the details, so to speak. Ultimately there is no record that sounds like this, and it should be rightfully embraced as a brilliantly innovative record, boundless of genre.