With Frank Ocean and The Weeknd dominating R&B in a huge way in 2012, expectations are high for any artist attempting to step up to the mic that’s shared with artists as immensely talented as those two. It won’t be long, however, before Arthur Ashin—the man behind the Autre Ne Veut moniker—rises successfully to this challenge with the release of his sophomore album Anxiety, out on February 26th for the Mexican Summer label. The record—an almost impossibly rich and multilayered work of avant-pop and R&B—makes one even question if the term “sophomore slump” has any relevance; Anxiety is such a considerable improvement over his 2010 self-titled debut that at times it’s hard to believe it’s the same artist performing.
The opening track of the album, the high-energy “Play by Play,” the second single following “Counting,” kicks things off with aplomb. You might worry Ashin is treading into generic territory with the opening lyrics (“Baby, I said… baby!”), but from the moment the chorus begins, it’s clear that this is no ordinary R&B record. Hell, calling it R&B is only partially accurate; Ashin is clearly drawing from the genre’s stylistics, but “Play by Play” is, ironically enough, a song that’s not easy to break down into a play by play. It feels so larger-than-life, so ebulliently grandiose that it’s hard to grasp at one individual thing that makes it great. Even the chorus itself, built on a simple repetitive lyric (“I’m just calling you up/To get that play by play/by play by play”), feels like it’s on a whole other realm. But at the same time it’s a basic pop hook underneath, one that rises above the ocean of synths beneath it. That beautiful balance of unfussy composite parts with densely layered arrangements is but one of the many reasons why Autre Ne Veut has easily established himself as one of the still-young year’s artists to watch for.