On Age of Transparency, Arthur Ashin’s voice and music both carry an added edge. His third album under the Autre Ne Veut moniker—a record that he describes as the second installment of a trilogy—injects chaos and abrasiveness into what has previously been a smoother, more transcendent sound. Maintaining arthouse R&B cred means shaking things up through constant envelope-pushing, and Ashin does so here, emerging from his home studio and putting out a strong album that challenges the listener. Despite its title—which Ashin uses sardonically, citing that it was pulled from “marketing jargon” and that, in our world, the frequent call for transparency is “an impossibility”— Age of Transparency is a denser, more complex record (and, frankly, one that’s a whole lot more jarring) than 2013’s breakthrough, Anxiety.

Fully appreciating Age of Transparency requires more than a surface-level listen. Happen upon a song here or there, or simply put this on in the background, and the more abrasive tracks may overwhelm you. Art often thrives upon carefully-crafted contradictions, and Ashin has made a rising career from coaxing vintage sounds from modern production techniques to create a new/old hybrid that sounds unlike his R&B contemporaries like the Weeknd or How to Dress Well. On Anxiety in particular, he broke through thanks to a sound that’s both fresh and familiar, but it was never anything but intensely listenable.

Age of Transparency shatters those expectations and reassembles the pieces in a way that’s unafraid to leave some pointy edges jutting out. Ashin’s voice, often part of an eclectic musical landscape, is far more prominent here. In an opener that initially hearkens Anxiety’s first track, “On and On (Reprise)” finds Ashin running his voice ragged in belting out a lament, at first paired only with gentle piano before a moody jazz backing whispers in and raises to cacophony with some electronic intrusion. If this is your first entry into Ashin’s work, it’s not an especially welcoming one, as impressive as the heart-on-sleeve wailing is. In fact, this stripped-bare reprise of the originally upbeat single “On and On” acts as its polar opposite.

Much like how relationships can be a thing of beauty that become abrasive when pushed too far, this third Autre Ne Veut record strains at its boundaries. The mostly somber “Over Now” goes so far as to throw in a barrage of crackling static that all but obscures the music and is almost literally painful to listen to, but it’s clearly meant to evoke the pain that accompanies the sudden end of something wonderful. “Switch Hitter” sees Ashin find his falsetto (something he leaves in the toolbox far more on this record than on past efforts), but paired with glitch electronics, the track seems to purposely grate.

But this artistic abrasiveness only helps accentuate the album’s most sparkling moments. Ashin’s voice, so front-and-center for most the album, gets immersed within a choral swell in the rousing “Panic Room.” And the programmed vocals blend with glitchier electronics in “Cold Winds” before much of it falls away, leaving little else but a skittering drum beat to accompany Ashin’s emoting vocal. The album’s title track may best serve as a musical through-line to Anxiety simply in its upbeat accessibility. While “World War II” turns out nothing like Anxiety’s “World War”—here, Ashin’s robust voice laments the insufficiency of words and fleeting emotions, as a rapidly-ascending robotic voice spirals upwards.

Age of Transparency succeeds in defying expectations, and in moving Autre Ne Veut into a new vein. We’ll have to wait until the third piece of this trilogy drops before we’ll have the whole picture (something that’s reflected in the similarly-themed album covers for the last two, featuring first a picture frame and now plate glass being held in place). If Age of Transparency is any indication, going forward we can expect the unexpected.

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