Don’t let the title of Autre Ne Veut’s sophomore album, Anxiety, fool you. This is the sound of someone in complete control. From the glittering synths that start the brilliant, hook-filled “Play by Play” all the way through the record’s too-brief, 38-minute runtime, Arthur Ashin is pressing all the right buttons.
On Anxiety, Ashin, who also owns masters degree in psychology, has largely moved past the blurry, experimental nature of his self-titled debut to a more perfected, polished brand of modern pop. Autre Ne Veut incorporates the soulful crooning of contemporaries like Usher and The Weeknd and combines them with huge, radio-ready choruses. Add some introspective but universal lyrics and you have all the trappings of a successful record in 2013.
The aforementioned “Play by Play” is a perfect example of this pop-music pastiche. Hooks used to be relegated to the choruses, but here, they are inlaid in nearly every inch of the song, ideal for today’s iPod, ADD generation. Taken with “Counting”, it’s a knockout one-two punch.
Elsewhere, “Ego Free Sex Free” finds the warm medium between D’Angelo and today’s technology, reminding listeners that this is still a release from Dan Lopatin’s Software record label. “World War” ends the record by building to a resounding refrain: “Ain’t going to be no way you’re going to be my baby.”
A cynic might say the tunes are too polished or too packed with production, or scoff at the over-the-top, Ceterian soft-rock of some songs like “Gonna Die”, but this criticism, while understandable, seems to miss the point. I mean, cynics rarely end up on the dancefloor or belting out choruses at karaoke when they’ve had one too many.
The original album art for Anxiety was a recreation of the selling of Edward Munch’s “The Scream.” The idea was recently scrapped (likely due to copyright concerns), but the concept featured two white-gloved workers holding the framed painting on either side, perhaps demonstrating that we can still stand apart from our existential fears, with at least some semblance of control. And once we come to grips that we are “Gonna Die”, this anxiety can be pointed into positive energy, and ultimately – like on Autre Ne Veut’s new album – enjoyment.