Release Date: Oct 2, 2015
Record label: Downtown
Genre(s): R&B, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative R&B
If 2015 has taught me anything, it’s that dudes are quickly learning to be wary of the internet. There’s Jon Ronson with his reporting about the slippery slopes and chilling effects of public shaming, Jonathan Franzen with his Wikileaks and-online activism-inspired novel, Purity, and now Arthur Ashin with Autre Ne Veut’s new album, Age of Transparency, which according to its PR, is about “the place we’re in now, where truth and transparency are just ways to sell things and honesty is its own kind of performance. ” The 50-plus women who’ve come forward this year to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault would probably beg to differ, but that’s neither here nor there, because — if I’m can perform my own brand of honesty here — you probably would need the press release to be aware that this is what the record is ostensibly about.
In their video “Is Kanye West Even Human?”, YouTube channel Wisecrack’s 8-Bit Philosophy series explores the complex notion of the self. They cite renowned philosopher, psychologists, and sociologists in determining that one way in which the self comes into being is by creating a persona based off of what we believe others want to see our selves being. After the release of his excellent Anxiety, which, in many ways, can be labeled the last of the major alt-R&B breakthrough albums of the early 2010s, Arthur Ashin’s full-blown self-projection on both the album and in his performances allowed the media to create their version of his self for him.
Not three seconds into Age of Transparency, as Autre Ne Veut's Arthur Ashin cuts his opening "baaaaa(-be? -by?)" and pulls it back with a vinyl squiggle, it's clear that his third album is going to be as brash, dramatic and unpredictable as his breakout 2013 full-length, Anxiety. Sonically, Transparency treads similar territory, evidenced by the chopped and screwed synthetic choral vocals on "Panic Room," the thick, squelchy R&B synths of "Cold Winds" and the flanged, distorted guitar of the epic title track. Perhaps it's confidence after the success of Anxiety, but Ashin takes more risks here than in Autre Ne Veut's previous work, and they pay off.
Arthur Ashin had something of a critical breakout with the release of 2013's Anxiety, his second LP under the Autre Ne Veut banner. The album saw a crystallization of the New Yorker's eccentric arthouse R&B sound, which had first been introduced in a somewhat cruder, more D.I.Y. form on his self-titled debut a few years earlier. On Age of Transparency, his third album and first for Sony-affiliated Downtown Records, he delivers another set of bold and nervy tracks that are as hyper-controlled as they are chaotic.
The more music Arthur Ashin makes, the more it rips itself apart at the seams. His new album as Autre Ne Veut makes his 2013 breakthrough, Anxiety, sound polished, slick, even tame by comparison. Its edges bleed into Twin Shadow’s Confess and How to Dress Well’s Total Loss and Active Child’s You Are All I See, early decade albums that embraced melodrama as though the dream of the ‘80s had never died.
Think about the juxtaposition of two phrases regarding the previous Autre Ne Veut album in 2013: There’s Arthur Ashin’s nom de PBR&B which translates from the French to “I want no other,” and then it’s titled Anxiety. Indeed, Ashin sings like the fate of his only possible monogamous connection (or as they used to say, “soul mate”) is at stake. His husky lisp has its moments as it scales fleeting heights, though it never escapes the probation of surprise; if there’s any anxiety for the audience it’s hoping his flights of fancy don’t crash.
Arthur Ashin's music is about obsession. His alias, Autre Ne Veut (which roughly translates to "want no other"), is fixated on one thing. It's a quality that makes his music remarkably intense and sometimes hard to stomach, as his voice wrenches like your gut during a panic attack. He channeled that energy into glitzy pop on 2013's aptly titled Anxiety, a stellar album of tortured torch songs that were written in a bluster of creativity.
The opening to Age of Transparency teases us with memories of 2013's "Play By Play", still the greatest song Arthur Ashin (aka Autre Ne Veut) has ever recorded. "Baaaaaaaaaaaabe," he warbles, his voice soulful, strained and knowing, before he slides into a reprisal of "On and On", remaking the upbeat single into an exercise in jazz improvisation and bare-boned composition that goes just long enough before it chokes out into a sputter. A theme for the album is wrapped within; this set of songs extends something beautiful to its limits and then tries to will it beyond its end.
“Transparency is an impossibility,” says Autre Ne Veut’s Arthur Ashin in a statement about his new record. “It’s more about trying to be transparent and falling on your face in the process.” This proves a perfect statement to describe ‘Age of Transparency’, the second step from Autre Ne Veut in a trilogy exploring the difficulty of making personal connections in an impersonal time. The modern age is something Ashin seems to find challenging – 2013’s ‘Anxiety’ made this explicitly clear: hopeful, gritty and disorientating all at the same time.