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New Album Review: Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety

By Jordan Weil posted Mar 02, 2013 at 08:55 PM

Review by Jordan Weil

The world of R&B has been undergoing an exciting, existential transformation where the definition of “real” R&B is slowly shifting. While many will point you to new artists such as The Weeknd, Miguel, and Frank Ocean to experience the “New R&B” followers of Daniel Lopatin’s cult will politely steer you in the direction of Arthur Ashin, who performs under the moniker Autre Ne Veut. Ashin is more of the studio-nerd type and uses the R&B sounds to transmit emotions and introspection, rather than reproduce and expand on the traditional artists who obviously inspired him. Weighing the 2013 release Anxiety by R&B standards, it will always fall short, but as an emotional journey set to music, this one shines.


Ashin does not conceal much. In interviews, he’s discussed the lifelong emotional issues he’s battled: beginning with his upbringing in rural Kenya as son of two American expatriates, and completed by a master’s degree in psychology, depression and anxiety have never been unfamiliar to Ashin. When he started recording under a pseudonym, it was not for privacy but to protect his future hopes of being a doctor. He’s 30, notably older than his contemporaries and so all of this emotion has been ruminating and developing inside for longer. While a vague tone of longing pervades the entirety of the album, it is different than the type that, say, R. Kelly, claims in classics like “Ignition” (let’s move on before it gets stuck in my head…again).

Instead of focusing on sex, passion, or even religious awakening, Ashin croons about loneliness, confidence, reassurance and going deep inside oneself to take charge and become comfortable with the true self. Even when he moves past the emotional tribulations, a nervous desperation overwhelms the tone, enveloping the listener into Ashin’s decisively self-transformational album. This collection of 10 expressive tracks (plus a bonus remix) is like a publication of Ashin’s development, both psychologically and artistically.  Aptly titled Anxiety, the album starts out calm and optimistic to set the mood and introduce the listener to the reflection sesh he/she is about to sit in on.

The first track, Play By Play, rolls back a beaded curtain with mesmerizing electronic flourishes and a distant rhythmic ringing with Ashin’s composed crooning seemingly coming from above. He seems to be reflecting on a former lover and his life as better without her. Over the course of the five-minute introduction, Ashin summarizes what listeners are about to experience, with an expansive cacophony of synthesizers and church bells and, eventually, a female vocalist joins the emotional battle and wins the last word over Ashin, leaving the rest of the listener keen to the subject of their lingering reconciliation.

Moving past the addictive melody, the first Single, “Counting” lays down the 80s pop and soul grooves, leaving the more serious stuff for later. Ashins vocals come through high and clear with ringing falsetto tones reminiscent of legends like Prince. As we delve deeper, we reach a more intense, self-confrontational thick in the middle of the album. Ashin holds nothing back in the lyrics, clarifying whatever self-deprecation wasn’t transmitted in the melody, “No holding back, you’re wonderful and you fed a lie”.

While some albums bear a contiguous message developed over the juxtaposition of its tracks, Anxiety is an album composed of individual universes. Each opus is an unique journey of the artist through whatever emotion he assigns. Between its angelic falsetto vocals and blended electronica, no track has a clear meaning and can truly become whatever the listener views it as. The versatility gives this album power, it could be an indictment of a lover or an acceptance of inevitable heartbreak. Wielding the power of infinite versatility, Anxiety will grow on you as your discover just what it is you want it to be.

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