In the past couple of years, R&B has found itself developing a strange relationship between its cold, technological, 80s self and its soulful Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye past. That combination has led to albums from the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd receiving critical and commercial success, bringing R&B back from its mid-2000′s malaise and creating a path for its future. In the meantime, Arthur Ashin’s Autre Ne Veut has carved a niche by bringing attention to his work through a couple of controversial album covers. Ashin’s latest record, Anxiety, is the first to feel like a truly cohesive work and one that stands beside those artists on the front lines of modern R&B.
Using his debut full length, the self-titled Autre Ne Veut, as a foundation, Anxiety is filled with dense production and killer hooks that hit that pop sweet spot. Opener “Play by Play“ puts everything Ashin has into a five-minute opus, building a tune that slows ascends into a soaring chorus that will follow you for days on end.
While “Play by Play” puts his best foot forward, there’s plenty here to admire and come back to. “Counting“ features Ashin’s hushed vocals in front of a dazzling choir, while an errant saxophone and guitar line threaten to drag the song into chaotic cacophony. It’s these minor production touches that catch the listener off guard without becoming a distraction, a trick that masters such as Gaye and Redding have used to great effect on their records.
“Ego Free Sex Free” is another stunner, with Ashin doing his best Prince impersonation while seducing his audience. It’s a fantastic song with over-the-top production that manages to complement the tune while pushing the album dangerously close to being too slick. Thankfully, the follow-up “A Lie” dials it back, bringing Ashin and the listener away from the edge, creating an effective ebb and flow that suits Anxiety’s overall sound.
In this day and age where listening habits skew towards singles, it’s always nice to hear production techniques that favor the album as an art form, rather than as a device to sell a couple of singles. Ashin takes his art seriously, with songs like the up-tempo “Warning” blissfully crashing against the slow, yet epic jam of “Gonna Die.” We listen to music for an emotional high and when an artist taps into that feeling song after song (as is the case with Anxiety), it can lead to a truly fantastic listening experience.
At this point on Anxiety, all roads lead to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Thankfully not a cover of the famous Whitney Houston single, this tune is fantastic, with a killer hook and an intriguing beat that pushes the record towards its finale, the dark “World War.” A fine closer for an excellent album, “World War” is all atmosphere, with Ashin singing over synths and a rolling beat that evolves into a full-on choir of voices.
Anxiety is Autre Ne Veut’s statement record, a grand experiment that joins those forward-thinking R&B artists who use the past as a means to explore the future. Where the group’s debut was a fine start, Anxiety manages to capitalize on that promise without compromising Ashin’s ultimate vision. With artists like Autre Ne Veut sitting alongside Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, the future of R&B is looking bright indeed.