J Rothery

Autre Ne Veut – Age Of Transparency (ALBUM REVIEW/SOCRATIC DIALOGUE)

Age Of TransparencyJ Rothery: So I have one thought about this album. The thing that interested me most about Anxiety was his voice. Ashin’s vocals feel like something—stylistically—that you wouldn’t hear from anyone else. And he totally pulls it off. Age Of Transparency is similar, but with more experimentation in the production and the narrative structure of the songs. It’s far less of a pop album than Anxiety is. What do you think?

JM Wilson: I felt that Anxiety was hit after hit. Not that any of the songs were actually hits in the objective sense, but that the album was a great pop album that, in my opinion and all too unfortunately, was more or less ignored by people who primarily listen to pop music. In contrast, Age of Transparency isn’t a pop album, and it doesn’t try to be: It’s challenging in the best possible way. Its production demanding attention at every turn, very much in the same way that you said rearding that Ashin’s voice in Anxiety, but now writ across every aspect of this album.

R: You can’t relax when you listen to it, because you don’t know what’s going to come next. There’s an unpredictability to it.

W: And that’s what makes it such a fun listen. It’s not something that I’m going to bang in the car when I’m taking a girl to the mall, but it’s something where I will happily put aside 45 minutes to sit down and just listen to it in its entirety.

R: I don’t think there was any particular song either where it lost that unpredicabiltity. I did feel some of the songs, I think it was ‘Never Wanted’, that one was later in the album, that one was something I felt could have come from Anxiety. It was a bit more ballad-y.

W: Yeah there were a few cuts that I thought felt very Anxiety-y. ‘Switch Hitter’ was one, but on that note, it also felt a lot more lyrically obtuse – like, what the fuck is a switch hitter? I think it’s a baseball thing.

R: There’s some kind of metaphor we must be missing. But, in ‘Switch Hitter’ there was some production you just would not have expected in Anxiety.

W: Yeah, there’s a lot more guitar work in this song alone than I think there was in all of Anxiety.

R: And a few big riffs that just would never have been given time on Anxiety.

W: It’s much noisier for sure, and because of this album (at least for me), Ashin’s relationship with Oneohtrix Point Never make so much more sense.

R: What do you think when you think of Oneohtrix Point Never?

W: Mostly Returnal and its fairly industrial sensibility, not to the same extent as Einstürzende Neubauten, but fairly abrasive. It’s nowhere near Autre Ne Veut in terms of style. But listening to Age Of Transparency, and having gotten more into Ohenotrix Point Never’s other work as Chuck Person, I’m hearing the—

R: More diverse instrumentation.

W: Yes, and darker tone colours too.

R: Yeah, that’s very true. Comparatively I feel like Anxiety was made on a drum machine, or from a relatively limited kit of sounds.

W: It feels like he went out and sampled a lot of his own stuff for Age Of Transparency. On that as well, I feel that Anxiety‘s song structures were–

R: More predictable?

W: Yes, in a sense. It’s not a bad thing, they are great choruses. But here I feel like, as early as the first song, he’s deconstructing that ballad-y, pop music structure. Like we said before, you don’t know where he’s going, you don’t know where anything is happening. You’ll hear a fairly standard piano and in the next bar there’ll be some almost metal guitars laying down thick riffs.

R: It’s all a little abrasive but it sounds so pleasant at the same time.

W: Well it’s like his music videos. The music video for ‘World War Part 2’ is aesthetic as fuck, but it’s so unsettling that I didn’t really like the song at the time.

R: Almost dark.

W: Yeah it was dark and I feel like on this album, I actually enjoy it. But, what do we think he’s getting at, with Age Of Transparency?

R: I’m not quite sure. Listening to the album for the first time, I didn’t really discern a specific lyrical theme. It’s quite an overt title, Age Of Transparency, and it feels like something about honesty, or perhaps a lack of honesty. And when I say ‘transparency’ I’m not sure if he’s referring to himself or a societal thing. There’s a really interesting tweet, actually a series of tweets, that he posted recently:

R: I was trying to work out what he means exactly. Maybe that music should speak for itself, like devoid of context? Or is he saying something about his own personality, and transparency as an artist, that his music is a reflection of himself, a transparent look into his own life? He is very open in his interviews.

W: I don’t remember where I saw it, but in reference to this album they were talking about how we socialise now (perpetually) in the epoch of social media. We all seem to live very transparent lives, but they are only transparent to a certain extent.

R: It’s a very constructed transparency.

W: Yeah, exactly—it’s an artifice of transparency, and maybe he is breaking that down. Ashin was anonymous until Anxiety came out, and so in terms of him wanting people to approach Age Of Transparency on its own terms, maybe he wants it to be a cultural document that exists outside of him.

R: But I feel like the way he sings almost sounds confessional. Rather, it is confessional. It’s one of the most characteristic things about the music.

W: I mean I thought that Anxiety was a break-up album. In fact I listened to it as a break-up album during a break-up, until that interview we read on FBI.

R: Which changed your thinking—

W: Yeah, so I was like, what the fuck? What does it mean then? He is fairly evasive though: When the interviewer says, “I thought it was a break-up album,” he says, “well, there is aspects of jealousy and anxiety in relationships,” and goes no further. So I fell there must be an impulse on his part that he doesn’t want to be didactic in how we approach his work.

R: It’s hard to do that, separate Ashin from his work, when it’s clear that a lot of him goes into his music. Especially his vocals, they sounds extremely emotionally strained, but in a nice sense. I feel like other people, if you push yourself vocally to this extent, you can sound very ugly, whereas for him it’s a very aesthetic strain.

W: I think that probably comes from the fact that he sings in falsetto a lot, he’s great at it. But then again it’s also his lyrical content. While sometimes they’re quite obtuse, I’ll admit, at no point are these songs particularly self-pitying—and this is more a comment on his work in Anxiety as well as Age Of Transparency—it is not as if i’m going “Oh, Ashin, I’m feeling for you,” it’s more like, “this applies to my present moment.”

R: It’s more introspective.

W: It feels like he—like I said before with the deconstruction of pop structures—is also deconstructing how songwriters approach ballads and love songs. Is ‘Get Out’ a break-up song? Because it’s the most positive break-up song I’ve ever heard, and in terms of the whole album before it, where there were these churning synths, you’ve got this gorgeous gospel song that is just so cathartic.

R: I guess when he says it’s a masterpiece—and perhaps I’m analysing the tweet more than the music—he is also framing that within a sort of self-consciousness when he says it’s “self-aggrandising in a sort of pitiful way.” I’m not at all surprised someone who made this album would say something like this, like perhaps it’s more of a personal masterpiece in that sense.

W: Well, it’s very ambitious. Especially given that fans he probably got with Anxiety, the more basic ones, that might not be enthused by this album.

R: However experimental his vocals were in Anxiety, he couched it in pop structures, and everything else about it was very comfortable. Whereas Age Of Transparency feels like the next step along. I think as well, listening to this, had I not heard Anxiety, I would be more blown away by this. In that I’m not surprised by this but it feels like the next stage.

W: While it is a very organic step for Ashin to take, I am still very impressed with how he still managed to confound and surpass my expectations of what Autre Ne Veut 3.0 would be like.

R: I need more listens—I feel like I’m going to say an eight, but I’m curious to see how I feel in a month of so. Anxiety did grow on me, and with Age Of Transparency I’m curious to see if I get less shocked by it, and it gets less engaging in that sense, because I feel like it does rely more on it’s narrative.

W: The thing i noticed is that the first time i listened to it, I was absolutely floored by how variable it was. These last couple of listens I have gotten increasingly used to it, but there’s still something inscrutable there that keeps be compelled and coming back. What’s our rating?

R: I’m thinking an eight or a nine.

W: I think an eight or a nine as well. Probably a nine.

9/10

(Thank you to Natalie for transcribing her lazy boyfriend JM Wilson’s part of this dialogue)

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