It should be no surprise given the title of Autre Ne Veut’s (real name Arthur Ashin) second full-length outing, that it is not for the feint of heart. This is an R&B record packed with dense instrumentation, overloaded with Ashin’s voice, a performance as often breathy and intricate as it is wild and wailing. It flits seamlessly between being intensely claustrophobic (‘Don’t Ever Look Back’) and truly anthemic (‘Counting’). Even when fashioning an impressively sleek piece like ‘Counting’, Ashin cannot help but litter the track with squawking saxophones, just to rattle the listener that little bit further.
It is important to note, however, that this is not a record that is being difficult for the sake of it. As Ashin revealed in a recent interview with Pitchfork, this is his idea of pop music, the music he loves, moulded around the implications of his personal restrictions: “relationship anxiety, family anxiety, social anxiety.”
‘Promises’ matches glistening synths with rumbling, rattling percussion, whilst Ashin’s voice recounts with disappointment: “You promised me heaven/didn’t you?” The album itself presents a number of high-points without shying away from the sense of melancholy that informs its subject matter. Music might be an outlet for Ashin, but he is far from wallowing.
Once the heavily Prince-indebted ‘Ego Free, Sex Free’ finally breaks through its rhythmically stunted first-half, it races ahead of itself in a glorious flurry of synths not too dissimilar to another would-be Prince-protégé, The-Dream. Opener ‘Play By Play’ drips with 80’s lust, a song built of seemingly innumerable parts all pinned together by a stunning vocal performance by Ashin, slipping effortlessly in and out of falsetto, the song climaxing with slinky R&B group vocals posited craftily over off-kilter percussion.
‘Gonna Die’, despite its overdramatic title, is presented in a delicate swirl of descending synths and organ notes. The only real misstep here is on the clunky ‘Warning’, when the album slightly overstep the line into melodrama. Overall, however, Anxiety is a triumph due to the fact that Ashin is, for the most part, able to tread that fine line perfectly. The result is a record of intense introspection, presented with overwhelming and captivating pop sensibilities.
By Guy Rimay-Muranyi
Software/Mexican Summer | Released: February
01. Play by Play
04. Ego Free Sex Free
05. A Lie
07. Gonna Die
08. Don’t Ever Look Back
09. I Wanna Dance with Somebody
10. World War
11. Counting (Remix) feat. Mykki Blanco