Autre Ne Veut is on the cusp of bigger things, but at this moment he stands on the stage of a sold-out show at Santos Party House and stares into the eyes of every crowd member the spotlight hits. The deep, electronic bass thrums behind him and back-up singer sisters of Zambri—who were enlisted for this show—waft their arms lazily behind him. But Arthur Ashin is seeing the last time he will perform at this level, he’s seeing the path that his break-out album Anxiety will lead him down: he’s seeing the future.
In many ways, his latest album does hold the future in it, realized in sonic waves of R&B, gyrating sound samples and floating above it all his bird of prey voice, fiercely powerful, emboldened with his beak-and-claws falsetto that appears to pierce at the most tender moments. Last night, this revealed itself on album stand-outs like “Play By Play” and “Ego Free Sex Free” especially, but also in the long lines of “Counting” that are populated by deep horns, frenetic synth bleeps, along with his signature vocals.
At Santos last night, the bass was turned up so loud it vibrated the hair on your arms, the skin on your bones—it felt like Ashin wanted to blast the clothes right off the audience. Or maybe just our egos? Leaving his own ego behind during a frustrating bout of technical difficulties, he played a track in the works solo on the keyboard. Entitled “Anxiety” after his recent album, the near acoustic version stripped naked of production flair displayed his talent and flexibility as a live performer and skill as a songwriter. Clearly Autre Ne Veut is still in the beginning stages of metamorphosis.
Which is what makes the fact that Anxiety is only his second album that much more compelling. Operatic in breadth, it’s the depth in Autre Ne Veut’s songs that really haunts—long interludes dotted with synths and samples that grow and bloom and shut back up again all within minutes—before Ashin’s voice returns to guide the way back to civilization.
As music evolves into a process guided more by machines than instruments, the stretching and warping of the human voice has taken on power as an instrument itself. The hyper speed vocals that were impossible to create even a few decades ago now appear elemental in most electronic music. Certainly the vocal range and subject material of Ashin’s songs evoke R&B vibes—and the scope of that genre is a debate for another time and another album—but Autre Ne Veut is a wholly different beast and one we better get used to.
The genre lines are blurring for musicians and fans alike, as the internet allows a certain anonymity in taste and exposure, a place to stretch boundaries and test new musical waters. The palette that Ashin has developed contains colors of rhythm and blues and blends them with countless other influences. The guitar solos on “Don’t Look Back” are strictly rockist in the strongest sense and even markers from noise music have made their way into this mash. It isn’t hipster R&B. It isn’t sacrilege. It isn’t cultural tourism. It’s simply the way that Internet culture is trending. The way things are mixing into some sort of unencumbered goulash, one that squashes classicalism and structuralism with equal indifference, and bursts through the veil of postmodernism in a cacophony of neon memes and sounds. Why hold back?
Ashin is embracing the dissonance and confusion, anyone who saw his performance last night felt the same real-time chills of an authentic artist expressing himself. Listen to this album without a smug gaze of holier-than-thou classicism to hear a compelling, fresh record that comes at the beginning of this unknown year, 2013, like a gift. And if this year is going to give us albums like this one, then the future feels generous.