Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Album Review: Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
Autre Ne Veut
Brooklyn producer Arthur Ashin, who records and performs under the Autre Ne Veut moniker, is not one for restraint or subtlety. His self-titled debut album back in 2010 was a dense, kaleidoscopic entry into a re-imagined R&B world that never settled into a groove, constantly shifting at a moment's notice, never afraid to strike out for newer vistas. Surprisingly, this kitchen sink approached worked the majority of the time, Ashin able to keep all the pieces in place, only occasionally making a mess of things. When your music is based on total excess, the only ways to really go are more excessive or completely minimal. With his second album Anxiety, Ashin doesn't necessarily pare things down. The musical excess is still there, however, there is greater focus on more cohesion and purpose this go around. Where the debut's creative ADD sometimes was exhausting, here he doles things out a little less judiciously, making these moments more special once they do come around.
I will admit that, at first, Anxiety rubbed me the wrong way. It was front loaded with the two brilliant singles "Play By Play" and "Counting," then seemed to completely jump off the cliff into incoherence. "Play By Play" is a slow building 80s reverential R&B-styled track, growing from glistening synths and clunky percussion, gathering strength from Ashin's peculiar vocal, which swoops and preens throughout. When the music drops out and rises with a throbbing Moroderesque bassline, the song truly becomes something phenomenal.
Last year's peek into the album, "Counting," even manages to take the album up to an even higher level. Another slow burning song, with interesting horn squonks as accents, details what you think is about a crumbling relationship ("I'm counting on the idea that you'll stay") , but instead is a haunting plea to Ashin's grandmother to stay alive. The furious build into swirling keyboards and Ashin's barely keeping it sane vocals are the perfect encapsulation of grief.
Ashin is a master at conveying the emotion of a song through mixing and his own voice. "Warning" is another tightly coiled track that explodes once the character's fragile emotional state reaches a fevered pitch,
"I Wanna Dance With Somebody," uses Ashin's falsetto as a counterpoint to the cacophonous music at the beginning of the track, gathering purpose as the narrator finds strength in himself, while on "Ego Free, Sex Free" his sexed out Lothario at the beginning of the track has all the strength but becomes unhinged by track's end.
But what truly amazes on Anxiety is when Ashin scales things back (well, relative to his usual output) and shows how brilliant he can be in more traditional pop sounds and structures. The soft-edged mid-tempo ballad "Don't Ever Look Back" combines a lot of differing genres (ambient electronica, R&B, UK bass) and marries them into a perfect pop mix, the strings creating a warm backing for all the burbling electronics. And closer "World War" develops a lush, ambient soundscape for Ashin to use for his gorgeous voice, and the lovely proto-R&B coda is lovely way to close the track and the album out.
Anxiety is a challenging record, one that takes from other acts plying their trade in the indie-R&B/modern R&B world (How To Dress Well, Inc., d'Eon) and turns it on its head. Ashin frequently takes his songs to almost illogical ends but somehow finds a way to pull it off. His work sometimes takes a long time to actually make sense; the disparate pieces always fighting one another and bouncing off each other in discordant ways. Ashin is not put off by this, and it is practically his calling card to make beauty out of chaos. Anxiety is a restlessly inventive record, that demands you immerse yourself in its world. It has no time for passive ears, and will leave you in the dust simply because it can.
Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.
Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.
Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.
Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.
Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.
Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.
Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.