Autre Ne Veut
[Mexican Summer, 2013]
Jeff Pearson, March 11, 2013
Listen: “Play By Blay”
utre Ne Veut–the future-R&B project of Brooklyn’s Arthur Ashin–might have penned a song that is too good. Oftentimes an album will serve as a strong collection of great songs, with one fantastic song that skews the entire context of the record, leaving the listener to wonder whether the fantastic song is actually great and the others are merely good. Not to say Autre Ne Veut’s second record Anxiety is merely good. In fact, the record is very clearly a collection of great songs whose contexts are wholly individual from one another despite the fact that the album opener, “Play By Play,” is very clearly fantastic. If having a song that is just too good for his own good is Ashin’s worst problem on Anxiety–and it is–then he is in pretty good shape.
“Play By Play” introduces the listener to Ashin’s world, his seering falsetto dancing around the mix of thunderous hip-hop percussion and brightly-colored synthesizers. The song is a lesson in modern maximalism, with each nook and cranny of the arrangement filled with auditory treats; it is a headphone symphony meant to tickle the nerves in the brain with each successive technicolor electronic twinkle or gorgeous vocal flourish. His blend of R&B on “Play By Play” fuses a keen sense of human quality and emotion with unbridled sexuality–it is an amalgamation of all the phases the genre has undergone over the years. There is always a sense of bared honesty, even through a bombastic rumble and lines like, “I don’t wanna be there tonight / You make me whole, you make me crawl / And make me harder / And you wanna be the one that made me up.” While on the surface, Ashin spells out his sexuality bluntly, but the emotive inflections of his voice reflect a deep sense of longing and desire for an emotional connection.
Ashin follows in the line of arch-backed beatsmiths crooning into the glowing faces of their laptops–the likes of Tom Krell of How To Dress Well and Abel Tesfaye of The Weeknd–seeking to create a disconnect between themselves and their intimate lyrics by pouring an ocean’s worth of digital waves in the middle of their worlds. While much of the material on Anxiety is deeply personal, the future-leaning sheen coating the production value puts Ashin’s songs in a world that just can’t be touched. It’s nearly impossible to disconnect from the overwhelmingly physical nature of the record to be truly introspective. In that regard, Anxiety is one of the more complexly dynamic recordsun recent memory–the physical and emotional are constantly at war.
“Counting” and “Promises” pick up right where “Play By Play” left off, with deliberate and sinewy beats uncoiling themselves around Ashin’s precise falsetto. The former includes deft use of a burrowing and surprising tenor saxophone and full-bodied backing vocals–making the entire affair feel like a disco Gregorian chant of sorts–while the latter sees Ashin perform call-and-response lines with warped overdubs of himself singing, “It’s the last heartbreak that will ever have to do with us,” making for a joyous declaration of self. In fact, Anxiety as a whole is a declaration of self. Whether through triumph or heartbreak, Ashin consistently finds solace in his empowerment. Lines like “Ego Free Sex Free’s” chorus of, “I want to be the knight in armor when you say this is forever,” and the shrieking plea of, “I run and tell you that I know you damage me / I would never want to see your face again,” come from the same place of using his music to protect himself, no matter the radically different sentiments conveyed.
The final rallying cry of Anxiety comes with “World War,” a slow-building anti-love ballad centered around patient and searing keyboards and gradually growing electronic dissonance–like a frequency interruption on the radio dial–sees Ashin proclaim, “Not gonna be, no way, no way / No way you’re gonna be my baby.” It’s “World War” where it becomes clear that this record isn’t a simple case of the great/good, fantastic/great conundrum. The sense that “Play By Play” provided the listener at the beginning of Anxiety was immediacy–a hook, line and sinker–but bubbling beneath that surface is a rich depth present from start to finish. “World War” is a simple, slowly-unfolding foil to the upfront maximalism on “Play By Play,” showing all of the complexities in between, all of the connections subtly made in that ocean between intimacy and intricacy.