One of the earlier records from 2013 to mine the fertile ground of R&B nostalgia in new and exciting ways, Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety is also one of the year’s most successful. Whereas his peers cast the revivalist aesthetic using a mellow, minimal mould, Arthur Ashin opts for a more synthetic approach, harking back to his days as a jingle writer. The record is abound with earworm hooks, sugar rushes of synthesisers, unhinged sax solos and frenetic falsetto runs, all contributing to a hyper-sensory sound that finds an unstable middle ground between accessibility and left-fieldism.
It’s precisely this idea of instability that breathes life into Anxiety, for despite his sonic about-turn from recent trends, Autre Ne Veut’s lyrical objective is every bit as similar as his predecessors. With a stage name that translates as ‘I want no other’, Ashin makes no bones about his preoccupations with love and loss, yet Anxiety isn’t simply going through the motions. While the lyrical content aims for standard fare, the record progressively feels as though its about to cave in on itself with each song; Ashin doesn’t reach for falsetto with the grace of a pop star like Prince, but with the desperation of somebody who has to release his demons. Amongst a backdrop of club beats and pitch-shifted vocals, ‘Counting’ is particularly bleak, a plea for Ashin’s grandmother to stay alive because he can’t bear to call her for the last time.
It’s worth remembering that Ashin has only come out of the shadows for just over a year, having released music anonymously from as early as 2009. Anxiety may be an intensely personal record but, like all effectively emotive music, it channels the personal into the universal, making the listener implicit in the cathartic experience. As its artwork suggests, Anxiety certainly offers itself a framework (and a stellar one at that), but ultimately what is projected into the frame is out of Autre Ne Veut’s hands. That, for any artist, is real anxiety.