Justin Timberlake has certainly made us wait a while for the follow up to his 2006 masterpiece, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Thankfully, that wait will finally be over on March 19th, when JT’s new album, The 20/20 Experience, hits shelves. But March 19th is a long 20 days away, so if you need to satisfy your R&B jones in the meantime, turn your ears towards Anxiety, Autre Ne Veut’s new album.
ANV is Arthur Ashin, a Brooklyn resident who is signed to Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford’s Software label. Despite the avant-garde learnings of both that label and Ashin’s previous work, Anxiety comes across as crisp, smooth and immediately accessible. Granted, it’s weirder than your average Usher album, but no weirder than Timbaland’s production on JT’s first two albums. I mean, how often does a Grammy-winning “pop ballad” contain “clavinet, guitars, beatboxing, synthesizers, Arabian-inspired riffs and Gregorian chanting”?
Whereas Timbaland’s eccentricity comes from his broad sonic palette, Autre Ne Veut distinguishes himself from the pack by tweaking the song structure and vocal stylings of conventional R&B. Opener “Play by Play” takes its damn time building up into a funky groove, but when the song “drops” (to use the parlance of our times), catharsis is achieved. Hyperactive drum patterns run amok, ridiculously impassioned vocals soar, and a gaggle of warped synths board a Delorean bound for 1987.
Speaking of the ’80s, Anxiety‘s most salient influence, other than JT, is Prince. Ashin’s voice favors a falsetto that oozes sex (apparently unintentionally), which bears striking similarity to the Purple One’s otherworldly croon. Add some retro 808 drums, synth theatrics and an album-wide sense of longing, and before long, you’re having no trouble envisioning a jheri-curled Ashin seated atop a purple motorcycle.
Of course, as with any unorthodox R&B, Autre Ne Veut risks being derogatorily labelled “PBR&B” or being the target of a Solange Knowles Twitter rant. Lord knows why the R&B community is so unwilling to accept experimentation outside of the confines of a Top 40 chart, especially when it comes with Anxiety‘s poppy sheen. But when artists like ANV, D’eon and Pit Er Pat continue to blur the lines between maximalist indie pop and R&B, it brings the genres into conversation with each other, allowing for cross-pollination and the muddling of cultural barriers. Anxiety may be a few shades weirder than The 20/20 Experience will end up being, but they’ll certainly be closer bedfellows than most music blogs will care to point out.