Autre Ne Veut once called his music failure pop—the result of someone trying their hand at music they have no idea how to make. It's a familiar model at this point: DIY artist attempts pop, DIY artist strikes fools' gold in brilliant melodies submerged with fuzz. The NYC artist's 2010 debut, niche as it was, was good at capturing the tried-and-true pop ideals floating through the collective ether. Anxiety, his full-length follow-up, sheds some of the grit and presents his fidgety songwriting in its full splendour.
The most distinctive element of Autre Ne Veut's music is his voice. In this new setting, it's more piercing than ever: a nasal yelp that can somehow twist itself into a howling falsetto in a split second. His snaking melodies treat whole octaves like single notes, which can be as nauseating as it is impressive depending on your tolerance for babbling histrionics. But implied in all this is wrenching sadness and confused desperation—the album is called Anxiety after all.
Many of the songs feel like they're improvised by someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of vocal pop music. "Play By Play," for example, is a collection of hooks that feel disparate and sloppily compiled—they're catchy but feel like pleasure overload in such quick succession. He wedges a weightless trance-baiting passage amidst dense verses on the stunning "Ego Free Sex Free," and bleats over tender moments of the searing steel-guitar country ballad "A Lie" with MIDI sax. The lyrics deal with extremes, from co-dependence to mortality ("Gonna Die") to celibate pleas of eternal love. These lyrics, though heavy, feel natural coming from that voice: it's hard to imagine Ashin spewing out anything that wasn't either manic or depressive.
Even through the emotional tumult, Ashin stays mostly poised on Anxiety. The best part of it all is that he hasn't compromised his weirdness, he's just sharpened his tools of expression. Maybe it's a climate where "hipster R&B" is fast becoming just another subgenre, or maybe it's just his growth as a songwriter. R&B, pop, whatever—there's a whole lot of signifiers you could point to in Autre Ne Veut's music, but no set of touchstones could express the same thrilling passion as his tortured yelp.
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Tracklist: Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety 01. Play by Play
04. Ego Free Sex Free
05. A Lie
07. Gonna Die
08. Don't Ever Look Back
09. I Wanna Dance With Somebody
10. World War