Found this guy through pitchfork. So what? You going to make a big deal out of it now? You want to go?
Arthur Ashin is the man’s real name, and–no surprises here–he’s a Brooklyn resident, wetting the panties of the thick-glasses wearing, male falsetto lovers all throughout the New Manhattan. But notice the hypocrisy here: my supposed cynicism doesn’t change the fact that I am writing about this guy, and I do love the music that I’m hearing. So what’s up with that?
Let’s get real here. We could talk about the music itself. We could talk about the top-knotch production–the mixing is so virtuosic I’m tempted to use the word orchestration. We could talk about the timbral fluency that makes songs like Gonna Die possible, where a synthesized oboe flows seamlessly into a vocal wail. Or we could just admit the truth: Ego Free Sex Free is a great song. Critical language lets me achieve some distance: I can advance phrases like “bold re-imagining of funk” or “gentle yet firm weaving of gospel and synth-pop,” but the fact of that matter is that this song is successful because it achieves the impossible: it makes me want to fuck. We’re talking about me, for whom the act of sex falls somewhere between flossing (necessary but not altogether pleasant) and gardening (I can see how other people might get into it but really it’s not for me), and yet the bald truth is that this song makes me want to get it on.
If we go one level deeper, getting real is exactly what makes me want to write about this album. In a number of ways, it’s pure pop cotton ear candy of the worst kind: easy to slurp beats supporting insipid synthesizers and men crooning with love-anguish. But I can’t shake the idea that the choice of this democratized musical vocabulary is exactly what makes this album so good. From Nietzsche: Poets muddy their waters to make them seem deeper, and yet in spite of his poetic language Autre Ne Veut’s waters are crystal clear. Maybe you’ve read the Borges short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”? If not go goddamned read it now. In it, the narrator describes a man named Pierre Menard who tries to rewrite Don Quixote exactly, not by copying the original work but rather by arriving at it. He wants something insane: to rewrite an extant work for himself, as if he had conceived of it independently. The narrator shows us why this exercise is relevant by critiquing one passage each from the original Don Quixote and from Menard’s version–the same exact text, in fact–and arriving at two completely different readings. One version, the narrator asserts, is the pompous borborygmus of Cervantes, the other is an unexpected and delightful quip from the upstart Menard.
Listening to Anxiety, I can’t help but think of the phrase “white man’s funk”. At the same time, I wonder if it’s impossible that Ashin didn’t copy funk but rather arrived at it, exactly as Menard hoped to arrive at the Quixote. Of course it’s extremely unlikely, but the fact that we can even consider it as a possibility speaks to exactly what I find to be Anxiety’s most engaging attribute: its honesty. Ashin doesn’t concern himself with the fact that the instrumentation, the groove and yes, the male falsetto, have all been heard a thousand times before. They remain, for Ashin, exactly the right tools for the job, and as a happy listener I can’t help but agree.