Arthur Ashin is a man of unusual aesthetics. As a singer, he sounds a bit like a Sam Smith. As an artist, he looks a bit like an Eminem. As an American, he adopted a stage name from an inscription in French found on an ornament in The Cloisters — Autre Ne Veut (“I want no other”).
Let’s add another layer to this puzzle of a man: As a performer, he throws his whole body into his stage act, belting out his bluesy voice while fervently enunciating his words into the microphone.
Autre Ne Veut released his third full-length album, Age of Transparency, on Oct. 2 via Downtown Records, and the alternative R&B artist made a tour stop in support of it at U Street Music Hall on Friday, Oct. 23.
He kicked off his set with “Cold Winds” and “Panic Room” — two selections from his new album, and he immediately comes in hot. From the start, Autre Ne Veut feels his own music and his intensity spreads throughout the very full room (not sold out but well within reach of doing so).
“Cold Winds” is a strong showcase for Arthur’s voice and his band — which are challenged to sometimes play discordant notes. There is occasionally an abrupt “start-and-stop” feeling to Autre Ve Neut’s songs, as demonstrated in “Cold Winds.” It’s not unusual for a full stop to be used once during a dramatic song, particularly right before dropping the beat, but Autre Ne Veut uses “pauses,” just short of a full stop, to add drama to his own music. It’s like jazzy glitch pop smoothed out in a musical blender — sometimes. The effect is akin to melodically tripping forward, and to underscore that concept, Arthur often staggers forward himself as part of his dance while singing. It’s a different way to frame his really powerful soulful voice, and the audience recognizes they are seeing something unusual.
Soon, Autre Ne Veut performs “Counting” from his 2013 album, Anxiety — the album that put him on critical radar. The mournful tune is slightly more traditional with its quiet moments filled by Arthur’s falsetto and its sweeping chorus: “I’m counting on the idea that you’ll stay alive.”
Watch Autre Ne Veut perform “Counting” for a Best Fit Session for The Line of Best Fit on May 1, 2013, on YouTube:
On Anxiety, Autre Ne Veut offered another powerfully mournful song “World War,” apparently about the ephemeral nature of relationships. The emphasis falls on the repetition on the end of “no way” and “you’re going to be my baby,” suggesting a farewell. On Age of Transparency, he serves up a sequel “World War Pt. 2,” another glitchy jazz song. Like “World War,” its focus is on loss, but apparently we just cannot get over it. While “World War” is resigned to loss, “World War Pt. 2” seems to struggle against it.
In concert Friday, Autre Ne Veut performed the songs out of their preconceived order, presenting “World War Pt. 2” early in the set and hitting “World War” toward the end. It was a smart move in performance as it stacked the early part of the set with new songs. But I recommend that you listen to the two in the order they were recorded sometime as an illustration of how Arthur has become much more avant-garde in a short period of time. (If nothing else, the video for “World War Pt. 2” provides a truly disturbing visual depiction of the song’s message. I actually don’t care to link to it because it creeps me out.) [Okay, Okay, watch it on YouTube here!]
Watch Autre Ne Veut perform “World War” live for KEXP in Seattle on March 8, 2013:
Autre Ne Veut only has one lone show scheduled at present — today Monday, Oct. 26, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. Go see him, particularly if you’re up for an absorbing performance that will give you something different. Hell, if you’re bored of what you’ve been listening to lately, Autre Ne Veut may be the antidote to your ennui.
An extra special thanks to Peter Hutchins for his permission to link to his photos of Autre Ne Veut at U Street Music Hall on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015. Check out more of his work on Flickr.