Thomas Arsenault is the brains behind Montreal-born electro-pop project Mas Ysa. After garnering some hype with his 2014 EP Worth, Arsenault returns on July 24th with his debut full length album Seraph. Unlike most studio musicians, Arsenault is no stranger to live performance, having toured with the likes of Deerhunter, EMA and Hundred Waters before releasing any albums. Seraph was “created far from the noise of the city, at Arsenault’s woodland home in Lake Hill, NY”. Of his move from Brooklyn to Lake Hill, Aresnault says “moving upstate and recording there…was less isolating than I’d expected. I felt much more isolated in the city, in a dark corner of a studio, whereas in Lake Hill, I felt like my music was going out the windows and into the woods”. These tours and solitary living quarters have given Seraph the type of introspection rarely found in the work of a solo electronic act.
Seraph’s first single is “Look Up”, a song that begins with a series of synthesized sounds mimicking guitar strums, reminiscent of the uncanny valley of early digital keyboards that had presets for every instrument imaginable. A pulsing bass sound is introduced, layers abound, and Mas Ysa veers into Alphaville territory. The 80s synth-pop influence is a clear signifier throughout Seraph, but the album is much more rooted in the now than contemporaries like The Chromatics, or really, any artist mining the 80s New Romantic movement. Perhaps Arsenault’s greatest strength is his voice, and the emotion that he transfers through his delivery. The song’s lyrics are oblique, but Arsenault still manages to convey a sense of urgency: “Show me work, the state that you live in, and I wanna know where you run”. The keyboard stabs introduced on the second verse hint at early 90’s pop/house, while never fully reaching that territory. For what it’s worth, “Look Up” is the perfect choice for the album’s first single:
One of the most impressive things about Seraph is Arsenault’s sequencing. At times dizzying and virtuosic, it is best displayed on the song “Suffer”. The song starts off with a simple Human League-esque beat, before a sudden shift into a stream of arpeggios and (real) guitar strums. The contrast between “Look Up” and “Suffer” gives listeners a window into just how good of a producer Arsenault is. Showing restraint on one track and letting go completely on another is difficult, but Mas Ysa manages to do so with grace throughout Seraph.
Review by Evan McDowell