Autre Ne Veut (French for “I think of none other”) is the stage name of Arthur Ashin, a producer and singer from New York who released a promising but largely over-looked self-titled album and EP in 2010 and 2011 before teasing us with two superb singles over the past few months. First single “Counting” grabs the listener’s attention immediately, beginning with a riveting female vocal harmony over a slow-jam breakbeat and a retro swell of Purple Rain-era synth. Welcome to the 80s lovefest. When Ashin’s falsetto vocals hit in the first verse, you get the distinct sense that a promising artist has realized his potential. The dissonance of distorted saxophone bleats and manipulated vocal theatrics never let the listener get comfortable, but work to keep you engaged.
Ashin’s previous releases experimented with sounds from 80s R&B, but on Anxiety, he transcends the genre. The opening wash of synthesized harp on “Play By Play” and ridiculous R Kelly crooning of “baybee” would feel downright cheesy if they didn’t immediately fade into an ominous rumble and Ashin’s terrific vocal workout in the first verse. And by the time the track builds – over the course of several minutes – to one of the more epic choruses of the year, you’re hooked. The chorus “I just called you up to get the play by play by play by play” may repeat over and over (and over) for three minutes, but it won’t stop you from re-queuing the track for another spin when it ends. It’s the definition of infectious, and while the title of the album may be Anxiety and many of the tones Ashin uses are assuredly dark, there’s a joyfulness that courses through many of his tracks as well. It’s a pretty exhilarating listen.
“Promises” begins with a staccato drum machine familiar from Sleigh Bells’ “Tell Em”, but while Sleigh Bells’ fixation with the 80s apes hair metal thrashing, Autre Ne Veut’s nostalgia is for euphoric synth-pop and the R&B posturing of Prince. At two minutes, it’s the shortest track on the album, but one of the most accessible pop songs. “Ego Free Sex Free” really could be a Prince cover for it’s “turn it up and blush” chorus. The soaring production is scaled back on “A Lie”, “Gonna Die”, and “World War”, which allows Ashin’s vocal performance to carry the emotional weight. The high-pitched falsetto on “Gonna Die”, in particular, is pretty heart-rending, and the summation of the album could lie with “Someday I’m gonna die, I feel it more acutely now than I have for a while” followed by a frenzied vocal freakout that ends with the self-reassurance that “I’ll be ok for awhile.”
Ashin is apparently a student of psychology, so the choice of Anxiety as title for the album is probably as much a commentary on the psychological effects of emotional volatility as it is a reflection on his own state of mind. That said, “World War” is a heart-breaking close to the album, reflecting the pain of giving up on a relationship. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” directly precedes it and is not a cover of the monster Whitney jam but is instead an earnest plea – I really do wanna dance with somebody, anybody. There’s that fear that death will precede emotional fulfillment – what bigger cause of anxiety is there? Ashin aims to tackle a deep, emotional subject, but does so with a lot of haunting beauty and a fair share of dance-worthy release. As a whole it’s a particularly arresting album with two absolute production gems in “Play By Play” and “Counting”.