February 27, 2013

Test Spins: Autre Ne Veut, Anxiety

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The original album cover for Autre Ne Veut’s second LP, Anxiety, recreated a photograph taken of Edvard Munch’s The Scream when it was being auctioned off at Sotheby’s. This scene of  iconized angst being sold for millions was intended to mirror how the album also placed the work’s eponymous feeling “in the modern capitalist framework.” Now a void stands in place of the painting due to copyright issues, but the gap reflects the album’s concept much better anyway: Anxiety is less about anxious feelings and more about a generation of pure emptiness. Like Jacques Lacan’s idea of manqué, Anxiety shows us that the desire only exists within this empty place.In opening track “Play by Play,” mastermind Arthur Ashin croons a refrain that shows up in too many R&B albums (“And I said baby”) over shimmering synths, before completing the sentence with the album’s single persistent theme: “I’m all alone.” The synths crash into silence then build up again to a momentous climax of slick beats. We learn that neither Ashin nor his mystery woman will make the first move: He “doesn’t want to be there tonight,” but neither does she. Still, this doesn’t prevent Ashin from endlessly imploring her to never leave him alone, as if repeating it enough times with enough gusto will make it true. As he described it, he’s “not afraid to sing about sex,” but the album is “more about the anxieties and frustrations of trying to relate to other people in this world.”Of course Anxiety is not just about missing lovers. “Counting,” the clear highlight of the album, is about Ashin’s dying grandmother. With a chorus as rousing as Kanye West’s “Power” layered over beats that are piercing yet smooth, Ashin cries that he’s “counting on the idea that you’ll stay alive,” despairing that “everything you say is breaking off.” Each time he visits his grandmother may be his last.While broadly R&B, the album’s sound is influenced by a very unlikely source: Ashin’s college roommate Daniel Lopatin, who makes haunting ambient drone music under the recording name Oneohtrix Point Never. Ashin himself admitted that “people who actually listen to R&B are not going to feel like this is a real R&B record,” but that’s the point. Like the emotion, Anxiety won’t be the same for everyone. Even within an individual the feeling morphs over time, just like each of Anxiety’s songs. What doesn’t change how react to that feeling, consistently paralyzing and captivating, enticing us to transgress each challenge it poses.

Original Author: Kai Sam Ng