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Autre ne awesome

Experimental band scores with 'Anxiety'

Autre ne Veut’s most recent album, ‘Anxiety,’ merges the vocal styling of late ‘80s and early ‘90s R&B with experimental electronic backdrops. Arthur Ashin’s voice is generally front and center rather than buried in the indistinguishable haze characteristic of other artists with a similar aesthetic. Although his voice evokes the almost cheesy sensuality of the era of R&B that influenced the album, his lyrics mostly revolve around its titular theme of anxiety.

Like the album title, the song titles are simple and blunt. “Gonna Die” finds Autre ne Veut in an existential crisis singing, “Someday I’m gonna die, and I feel it more acutely now than I have for a while.” That theme of vague existential dread permeates the remainder of the album.

Loss and loneliness also haunt the album’s lyrics. “Counting” deals with Ashin’s reluctance to call his grandmother for fear that it will be their last conversation. From the melody alone, however, the song could just as easily work as a slow-burning bedroom jam.

The album refuses to get fully bogged down in melancholy, however. Album standout “Play by Play” builds to an ecstatic crescendo before resolving into mantra-like repetitions of its chorus. Indeed, most of the songs reach some sort of catharsis. Even the panicked “Gonna Die,” eventually finds Ashin singing, “I’ll be okay for a while.”

The overwrought emotionalism of the album is intentional and resembles self-parody at times. The original cover featured a reproduction of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” though it was replaced for the official release with an empty frame because of legal considerations. “The Scream” was a particularly apt pairing, nevertheless, as the music mimics this almost comically hyperbolic expression of emotion. Although most of the album’s tracks seem to be generated from real angst — not to mention Ashin’s diagnosed anxiety disorder — the listener is forced to constantly question to what extent the music is tongue-in-cheek.

‘Anxiety’ is Ashin’s second full-length album as Autre ne Veut, not counting 2012’s ‘Body EP.’ In it, he seems to have found his voice. Indeed, the release of this project is the first time he has conducted press interviews or even revealed his real name to the public — his protection of his identity up to this point is partially the result of his anxiety condition.

Although his singing and production have improved since his first projects as Autre ne Veut, it’s also helpful that forward-thinking R&B music has undergone something of a resurgence thanks to acts like The Weeknd, Miguel, Frank Ocean and How to Dress Well. Artists such as these create a context in which Ashin’s music can be discussed rather than relegated to the realm of oddball outsider pop.

In this context, we can recognize the album for what it is: a magnificently realized triumph. ‘Anxiety’ is a statement so personal and so carefully crafted that no other artist could have made this particular record. Whether he likes it or not, the interest generated by this superb piece of work has brought a new level of attention to Ashin and his music career, which bears all the signs of a fascinating future.