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Review: Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

On first inspection, everything about Anxiety – the sophomore full-length from New York’s Arthur Ashin, aka Autre Ne Veut – feels rife with the uneasiness and tension of its titular emotion. Born out of a year of psychoanalysis and with artwork that originally featured Edvard Munch’s The Scream – what greater expression of anxiety is there than that? – Ashin’s second exploration into what he dubs ‘failure pop’ certainly does seem to have a nervous disposition.

Scratch a little below Anxiety’s clammy surface though, and you’re presented with an assured take on R&B where the sweat is, most certainly, in the dancefloor swagger. Its singles, ‘Counting’ and the recently released ‘Play by Play’, ply their trade in instantly gratifying pop music that still manages to feel intensely personal. It’s the way in which Ashin underpins the melodramatics of writing club-ready, mercurial anthems with wince-free gravitas, that makes Anxiety such an immersive experience; and one that you’ll gladly revisit, whatever your state of sobriety.

This balance between looking inward and shouting very much outward sustains much of Anxiety; whether that’s the musically meteoric heights of ‘Play by Play’ being brought crashing down to Earth by its paranoid refrains of “never leave me alone”, the sensual yet self-aware ‘Ego Free Sex Free’ or the crystalline harmonies of “no way you’re gonna be my baby” that serenely support slow jam closer ‘World War’.

The – perhaps unintentional – irony of a title like Anxiety truly begins to hit home on multiple listens. On an artistic level, it feels like a hugely confident statement, a considered and thought-out progression from 2010’s Autre Ne Veut even if this is counterpointed with worry. The fact that Ashin’s greatest inspiration when producing it was karaoke may go some way towards explaining it. When we sing, we can adopt personas larger than our own, projecting our greatest fears and, yes, anxieties, out onto the world at large. It might just be that that’s exactly what Ashin is on Anxiety: a fictional creation of his own mind. This could be the pop star he’s always dreamt of being, without the opposition of his ego and super-ego. And, he’s a damn good one at that.

A step up from its self-titled predecessor in production, penmanship and the sheer magnitude of its dynamics, Anxiety is telling proof that Ashin’s deeply moving pop music is far from the ‘failure’ status with which he chooses to tag it. Forget the title, on the basis of a record like this; he’s got nothing to worry about.

- Alex Cull

Anxiety is out now via Software.

- Taken from Notion issue 062, available for purchase here.

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