With musicians’ reputations now built on the strength of YouTube views and Soundcloud hits rather than TV appearances and years spent playing live to crowds of strangers, the internet age has afforded many that might previously have felt unable the chance to play at being pop stars; nowadays it’s possible to create, distribute and promote music without having to leave the comfort and safety of one’s own bedroom, meaning even the more reluctant artist – be they afflicted with low self-esteem or crippling agoraphobia – can have their day in the sun and still remain as anonymous as they wish to be. For Brooklyn’s Arthur Ashin, however, anonymity is starting to look less and less like a viable option; the former jingle writer, who records under the alias Autre Ne Veut and suffers from a serious anxiety disorder, is about to release one of the best records in recent memory and one that is virtually guaranteed to posit him right in the glare of the media’s spotlight. That said, on the evidence of the aforementioned album, Ashin might not find that so terriying. Whereas ANV’s eponymous 2010 debut and its accompanying press materials found him disguising his voice with various kinds of studio trickery and his identity behind images of reconextualised body parts, sophomore album Anxiety presents Ashin as a bold, confident R&B singer in the mould of contemporaries like Jamie Lidell or How To Dress Well‘s Tom Krell, and also signals a stylistic shift away from foggy avant-electronica and towards his first love: mainstream pop and soul. From the opening keyboard washes of mini-symphony “Play By Play” (below) to the elegiac strains of two-part closer “World War”, Anxiety aims squarely at “epic” and hits the bullseye every time, employing ’80s-inspired synths, a combination of live and programmed drums and a choir of emoting soul divas on backing vox to deliver arrangements that do justice to these songs’ huge earworm melodies. With its pitched-up vocal samples and strafing synth lines, “Ego Free Sex Free” could be an after-hours cousin to Usher’s “Climax”, whilst the Mykki Blanco-featuring “Counting” is just begging to be repurposed for a Drake freestyle; “Warning”, meanwhile, plays like a slow-motion, windswept take on “When Doves Cry”, and it’s easy to imagine “A Lie” or “Gonna Die” soundtracking the heart-wrenching scene in some Brat Pack movie where a pair of tearful teens are forced to go their separate ways (only to be reunited, of course, before the end credits roll). All of which isn’t to say Ashin has abandoned his more experimental tendencies; we are, after all, talking about a guy first inspired to make music by Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, with whom he shared a room at college. And so we get abrupt saxophone squeals and blasts of ambient white noise popping up out of nowhere; on “Promises” an intricate tapestry is woven from ticking IDM beats, synthesized harps and hiccuping, chopped ‘n’ screwed vocals, whilst “Don’t Ever Look Back” fashions a slow-building soul epic out of a series of stuttering, machine-tooled rhythms before ending up with Ashin letting loose his inner Beyonce over a wailing hair-metal guitar solo. With clean, spacious production that brings all the elements – from the booming basslines to the multiple dancing voices to the mechanical whirr of the electronic drums – to life in vivid colour, it’s almost impossible to find fault with this endlessly engaging record, and although it’s doubtful we’ll see Ashin strutting across a stage in a purple catsuit or pouting at the camera like his beloved Prince any time soon, the turnaround in terms of ambition and self-confidence is nothing short of miraculous; so much so that you have to wonder whether the album’s title is actually intended to be ironic. Regardless, Ashin had better start slapping on the Factor 30 in preparation for that day in the sun, because – whether he wants it or not – he’s certainly got our attention.