Album review: What is going on in Autre Ne Veut’s ‘Age of Transparency’?

Is Autre Ne Veut fucking with us or what? Arthur Ashin has released his third full album, Age of Transparency¸ and it sounds exactly like what you’d expect someone who has spent a year a half alone in a small room in Brooklyn investing a lot of time in metaphors and thinking about “honesty” versus honesty and what connecting means would sound like. There is a good deal of beauty, and a tremendous amount of thought, in the production of this album. In our recent interview, Ashin told us he pushed himself to grow “by pushing myself into situations I’m not comfortable with [so I] can become a stronger better person without being coddled.”  He has pushed the limits of convention and genre in creating this follow up to 2013’s critically-acclaimed Anxiety, working with a jazz ensemble and choir in the recording before retreating to mix the album alone. Exploring the impossibility of true transparency, Ashin has developed a strong concept and built the album from this abstract foundation up, but how accessible is the end product?

It opens with On and On (Reprise), a six minute deconstruction of what starts as a soulful belter with sparse accompaniment that descends into experimental whirring and piano scats, Ashin’s modern jazz influences apparent in the trilling flutes and throw-around vocals. Everything comes off the rails in the end in full breakdown, scattered and manic. Panic Room has been getting more radio play with a more easily digestible twinkly sound in which Ashin’s silky voice shines over electronic sighs. We’re back in the deep end quickly, though, with Cold Winds dousing us with dissonance, yawping bass groans leading to Ashin’s angelic tones, crying “I think you’re a god” over synth madness.

The title track has more heavy jazz influences, and it is here that the depth and quality of Ashin’s production is showcased. He brings together the gorgeous choral backing with a snapping beat, a purity and clarity emerging from the chaos at last. Age of Transparency feels like the only track of the album that has some sense of unity, keeping the loose deconstructed feel that permeates the album but in the improvised jazz style, rather than disconcerting electronic jumps and glitches.

As the album winds down, Ashin continues to twist from wherever we expect him to go. Switch Hitter is a change again for Autre Ne Veut with a goopy RnB beat and nasal vocal changes and falsettos. Never Wanted is a twinkly love ballad with plucking harp tones and the harmonized choral backing swelling the track and then breaking it back down to a lazy bass and piano line. We are snapped out of this lovely interlude with the biting, sharp stabs of World War Pt. 2. Punctuated with pointed rising scales and a heavy electronic drones, World War Pt 2 highlights the disparity between Ashin’s expressive vocal quality and the jarring accompaniment, with a truly eerie video exploring the burdens we carry with us.

By the time we get to the break down in Over Now we know to expect the unexpected but are still thrown by the white noise tidal wave of static that cuts in at the three-minute mark, lest we begin to be lulled by the easy tempo and dulcet soothing of “It’s over now…” I know that Ashin has done something unique in Age of Transparency, I know that he’s finessed his craft and gone to places others wouldn’t and sought to create a message rather than just produce big tracks. But despite this I was relieved to get to the end of the album, listening to the unhinged modulating high notes and big choral foldbacks of Ashin reaching his triumphant end point. Get Out is seven and a half minutes long and explores the full gamut of Autre Ne Veut, the wild experimental electronic, the jazz and gospel accompaniment, the raw and ragged vocal breakdowns, the ultimate discomfort of dissonance. Ultimately, whether I’ve understood it or not, I know that Arthur Ashin is speaking a different language to everyone else.

Age of Transparency is out today.