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Autre Ne Veut by Anxiety

Autre Ne Veut, a.k.a. Arthur Ashin, is part of a current wave of musicians clearly influenced by pop and R&B and who want to make music that sounds like pop and R&B without quite being pop and R&B. His closest contemporary (and sometimes collaborator) is How To Dress Well, but projects like Jai Paul, Rhye, and to a lesser extent Purity Ring, all operate in similar ways. They take the tropes of pop and R&B, alter them slightly or significantly, and make something new with it.

This is how music critics can label someone like Jai Paul a pop mastermind, while “pop” is the last thing most people would call it when they hear his music. On the other hand, bands like Rhye and Purity Ring make more straightforward and accessible music, with their pop and R&B influences hanging on their sleeve.

Autre Ne Veut’s sophomore album “Anxiety” listens like an experiment in this current trend. Ashin stays close to his source material while still adding his own twist, making “Anxiety” excellent. When he ventures too far afield, the record takes a serious turn for the worse.

Opening track and first single “Play By Play” builds for a minute and a half with Ashin singing slightly off beat, building tension slowly.

Two beat changes and another minute and a half later, we finally get to the huge chorus: “I just called you up to get that play by play / don’t ever leave me alone.”

The last two and a half minutes of the song are nothing but chorus, and it’s such a good chorus you don’t even notice. “Play By Play” is Autre Ne Veut at his most promising, and one of the best songs of the year so far.

“Counting,” the other single, is in the same league if not quite at the same level. Ashin shifts smoothly in and out of his falsetto, incorporates saxophones that sound like they’re honking without it being grating, and the hook (“I’m counting on the idea / that you’ll stay”) is almost as catchy as “Play By Play.”

“Promises” continues on the same themes: “it’s the last heartbreak that’ll ever have to do with us.” It feels oddly short at only two minutes, but it’s better to be left wanting more than wanting it to be over.

Things continue smoothly with “Ego Free Sex Free.” If the lyrics were a little bit more explicitly sexual (instead of “I can’t feel my body”), it could practically be an Usher song. Fifth track “A Lie” reinforces Autre Ne Veut’s skills; it’s a slow ballad that showcases Ashin’s singing, producing, and gift for melody.

These first five songs could be the best EP of the year. Autre Ne Veut does Prince-style R&B, club jams, and a ballad, all equally well and with his own twist. Unfortunately, things can’t stay this good.

The sixth track, ironically-titled “Warning,” is all the elements of Autre Ne Veut gone wrong. The beat is too off-kilter to be fun- it’s just abrasive. Ashin’s falsetto turns into near-screeching. At only two and a half minutes, you want it to be over sooner.

“Gonna Die” and “Don’t Ever Look Back” recover on the production; the former is a solid slow-jam, and the latter features Ashin singing over well-done, glam-rock guitar solos. Unfortunately, he continues to overstretch his voice. He switches in and out of falsetto too rapidly and too frequently, and tries to go too high. His touch for melody and ability to write great hooks get lost in the mix.

The last few songs on the album rein things back in, and the record ends on a much better note than the mid-section. The damage has already been done, though.

“Anxiety” has a couple of the best singles yet of 2013, some very promising tracks, and some truly painful moments. If you’re really into the current wave of experimental-bedroom-post-R&B, pick yourself up a copy. If you’re really into great songs, make a YouTube playlist of “Play By Play” and “Counting” on repeat and call it good.

Rating: 3 / 5

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