Autre Ne Veut ‘Age of Transparency’ (Downtown)

Stateside singer/producer messes with convention and serves up an album for the narcissistic laptop era

Autre Ne Veut is 33-year-old Arthur Ashin who works at the margins of R&B and electronica. His last album, 2013’s critically acclaimed ‘Anxiety’, set the bar high for ‘Age of Transparency’. It’s a dense record, so let’s get stuck in…

Ashin’s arresting vocal style will undoubtedly be off-putting for some, but a real draw for those who value gut-level impact over technique. It scans as R&B in the sense that it seems to communicate meaning and emotion outside of the lyrics. It’s performative, but entirely sincere – excess in aid of clarity rather than obfuscation.

Throughout the album, Ashin revels in playing with the fabric of his sound. There’s plenty of vocal manipulation and digital glitching. ‘On And On (Reprise)’ is a bold curtain raiser. It begins as a showcase for the strength and power of Ashin’s voice, before turning into something of a litmus test for the following 45 minutes. He begins to replicate certain digital ruptures with his voice alone – repeating a particular word a few too many times, or just the final syllable. It’s disorienting, being unable to tell man from machine. ‘Over Now’ initially plays it straight, but this is revealed as a feint when the song suddenly erupts into vicious static. It’s difficult to listen to and almost had me checking my speakers.

Plenty of other musicians are working with similar ideas, but Ashin employs these techniques in a particularly effective way, making it part of the track rather than an end in itself. Unprepared, you may genuinely be tricked into thinking your CD is skipping, or that the file is corrupted. Rather than drawing you into a rich soundworld, it has the effect of repelling you, of placing you on the outside. Combined with Ashin’s theatrical vocals, it’s quickly evident that you’re listening to a performance. It feels like his aim is not to make you focus on the sound itself, but rather how it affects your listening.

Some of the songs lean closer to more straightforward synth pop. ‘Panic Room’ sounds like something Passion Pit might have come up with, while ‘Switch Hitter’ stalks around like a nightmare cabaret. Neither is a particular highlight, but they’re crucial to the running order – touches of lightness that prevent the record from appearing too wrapped up in its own self-importance.

Nearing the end of my first listen, I couldn’t wait to press play again. I was excited by what I’d heard, anxious to gather my thoughts and write. Then the first bars of the final track ‘Get Out’ hit, and within minutes I was convinced I was listening to one of the year’s finest records in any genre. It’s glorious and overwhelming, a well-earned showstopper. The chorus is pure pop, like something off a Blood Orange album. Everything cuts out halfway through, before the song gradually builds back up again with church organ and heavenly choir. It feels like a secular spiritual, so fervent are the vocals – and indeed, the transcendent climax reminds me of Spiritualized’s swirling gospel rock.

Ashin has made a fantastic record, one that expertly balances his experimental and pop directions. ‘Age Of Transparency’ is fully in love with the possibilities of sound, and continually flattens you with intense physical rushes whilst also providing more cerebral pleasures.

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