Many moments of Seraph may seem random but are really meticulously placed in an effort to create something truly graceful and charming.
The opening title track to Mas Ysa’s new album Seraph is anything but focused. It is a palpably dissonant track which jumps from idea to idea without properly settling for more than a moment. It is hard to tell from this dizzying opener just how talented the brainchild behind Mas Ysa, Thomas Arsenault, really is, but give the album a few listens and that becomes abundantly clear.
Arsenault is a Montreal based multi-instrumentalist who began writing electronic music back in Brazil, where he attended high school. The now 31-year-old then took his burgeoning talents to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The road to breaking out as an indie/electronic artist has not been meteoric for Arsenault, but his attention to detail and impressive musical chops make for something that is much more essential than the work of his many peers.
It was after Mas Ysa’s debut EP that Arsenault began to gain recognition. They have also had the benefit of sharing tour bills with some fast-growing groups that largely lie within the same genre, such as Purity Ring and Deerhunter. Despite these obvious comparisons, however, Mas Ysa is a group all its own. This is abundantly clear several times throughout Seraph, an album that continues to unfold the more you listen. The album’s first fully formed song, “Margarita” slowly builds, introducing one small aspect of the melody at a time. Soon, in what seems like almost an accident but surely is not, the song fully forms creating something entirely beautiful.
“Suffer” may be the album's fastest-paced song on the record, pairing thumping drums with a whistling synth that hovers above surface. The “suffer” promised in the song’s title is emotionally conveyed through the records most readily catch chorus. “I don’t want another one / I don’t want learn nobody’s touch", Arsenault pleads with his soon to be ex-love, though we know this is surely in vain.
“Suffer” isn’t unique in its ability to convey visceral emotional moments in a way that resists any hackneyed sentimentality. “Gun” begins with a gentle hum from Nicole Miglis of the band Hundred Waters, from there the two play off one another to haunting effect. The track works in a truly unique way, with each getting their turn toward the beginning introducing their respective choruses. Then the two go back and forth, first it is Miglis’s gentle voice with little instrumental backing, then in the next instant it is Arsenault singing his line with a flourish of harsh synthesizers. This technique is interesting, not only from a musical perspective but also as a way to show how two-sides of a love affair can be so fractured in their inner thought process. Both are flawed and both are haunting in their own way and Arsenault conveys this with amazing skill.
Seraph is album full of these kind of intriguing eccentricities. Things that seem random the moment they first appear but are really meticulously placed in an effort to create something truly graceful and charming. Mas Ysa isn’t doing something that no one has ever done, the self-made electronic musician is a busy field, but he is doing it with such skill that it is hard to believe this debut album will not be followed by several more just as good and probably even better.