Published Oct 08, 2015This month Autre Ne Veut (a.k.a. Arthur Ashin) returned with third album Age of Transparency, the follow-up to 2013's Anxiety and, according to Ashin, the second instalment in a trilogy that will conclude with a third, to-be-announced album. But where Anxiety examined the "anxiety that a lot of people go through — just the stressful shit that goes on in people's lives," Age of Transparency looks closer, he says, at "the social and cultural causes that kind of inflame that social anxiety." Specifically, the age of transparency Ashin speaks of refers to the way we "perform honesty," which he clarified and expanded upon to Exclaim!
"There's the obvious social media aspect of that, which is that we're all sort of feeding our own public machines by creating these searchable profiles on the internet, feeding the NSA with all this data about us and our interests, and feeding Google with all that data, but then there's this sort of more personal aspect of that, which is the way we're infiltrated so constantly by external media."
Ashin uses himself as an example of how outside influences affect our personal narratives — our attempts to be genuine, real or honest — and by extension, inform our everyday actions.
"Part of what happened after Anxiety was that the press profile of me said, you know, 'heart on his sleeve dude makes this record where he bares all!' and it kind of, by accident, became this performance that I did. I would go onstage and give all of myself, but then that 'all of myself' became a performance by itself, one that I had to perform every night on stage. I had to perform when I had an interview with a journalist, or when I interacted in the public sphere, on some level or another. How narcissistic is it to do that in a public sphere? It's just this theatre of self: 'Who am I? How do I present myself to the world?' It's something that we all seem compelled to do."
Musically, the album embraces a similar sound to that found on Anxiety, but it was born from a series of studio sessions with a jazz ensemble, who improvised over barebones, click-track song blueprints that Ashin provided. Once he had those session recordings, the plan was to manipulate them back into his sporadic, multiple genre-informed R&B.
"The intent," Ashin explains, "was a total mangling of a live-in-studio performance, one of which I shared as an Avatar Studio session. Probably the most important record to me, in my life, has been Astral Weeks, an early Van Morrison record. It's him with a handful of the best studio jazz guys, and they were underprepared, under-rehearsed, but he just kind of came in. I think part of what I was trying to do here is create this imagined space as the foundation for how that album came together. I built a little more than just click tracks for song arrangements prior to that, which were pumped into the ears of the players. 'On and On,' in particular, was totally free, and I had an idea of how I wanted to do it that I had mocked up using software synths and fake flute, piano and harp sounds — but I wanted to create a feeling of what it might be like to be in the mid- to late '60s, making a studio album with session players. That became the backbone and energetic force behind the record, initially."
The result is an album of Autre Ne Veut's fractured, melodramatic pop, with moments of respite provided by the samples of the mostly untouched jazz recordings, which give the listener a sense of musical and emotional space.
"The sessions create these little shelters of comfort on the album. They were really incredible. For me at least, I was this executive producer, asking these musicians — who can play well beyond anything that I can do — to create my music for me. That served as a lighthouse as I tried to navigate making this record. There were a lot of moments of doubt in the process of putting it together, like, 'How far do I take this? How far before I disrupt this feeling? How much do I leave behind, or accentuate?'
"The parts of the record that are most true to those sessions, like the little outro on 'Never Wanted,' which is just piano and bass, just break my heart. It's something I could just never make, so I get to listen to that and go, 'This is a little piece of that music, and that feeling that I have when I listen to Astral Weeks or Alice Coltrane's Ptah, the El Daoud.' It's an era of music before things were mastered to be too loud and grab your attention. I feel so lucky that I was afforded an opportunity, both by time and by the effort of the players, to have some of that on my record."
Listen to "World War Pt. 2" below, and head here to see Autre Ne Veut's forthcoming tour dates.
Age of Transparency is out now via Downtown Records.