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Album Review: Mas Ysa – Seraph

B

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  • digital
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When playing live, Thomas Arsenault, better known as Mas Ysa, can appear lonely up there by himself with all his equipment. The setup may give the impression that his music is filled with cloudy electronics, but what he really wants to be is a bona fide rock star. He sings with the conviction of Springsteen, belting his heart out every time. His first EP, last year’s Worth, made a strong introduction, blending sparse instrumentals with larger, soaring, bleeding-heart tracks.

Compared to his earlier singles, Mas Ysa’s debut album, Seraph, is a toned-down affair. Arsenault chose quick bursts where before he would have gone for a grand, sweeping movement. His songs walk a tight line between outright sincerity and ham-fistedness, and he can occasionally lean too far toward sounding like a caricature of the heartbroken rock star crooning in a leather jacket. Mostly, though, he stays on the right side of that division. That restraint adds tension to standouts like the ornate “Garden” or “Look Up”, but Mas Ysa never goes full-throttle, choosing instead to swell at a slow pace. In some instances, he keeps things at a slow burn for the entire track, as on the pronounced and sublime “Sick”, one of many songs about heartbreak.

One aspect Seraph captures surprisingly well is disco-inspired indie rock reminiscent of Delorean, Cut Copy, or Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. Both Arsenault and Win Butler are fans of soaring, emotive melodies, and Arsenault pairs them with fluid dance-rock beats. That blend is most pronounced on “Margarita”, a track inspired by Arsenault’s mother that serves as the most immediate song on the album.

(Read: CoSign – Mas Ysa)

While Worth featured a handful of instrumentals to bridge the gaps between songs, the only one here is the interlude “Service”, which brings in bells and synths over a driving house beat. The track captures a sense of wistful melancholy to a more potent effect than many of the more traditional songs on the record, including “Arrows”, which would have sounded better without the pounding EDM synths. “Arrows” tries to serve as the electric centerpiece of the record, and while it certainly has a palpable momentum, it doesn’t quite live up to the task.

While Arsenault has proven himself to be more than a competent songwriter, his talent shines when he allows different perspectives to enter his work. Seraph features two tracks with Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis, the grooving, trance-like “I Have Some” and the restrained and tender “Gun”. The former brings in light calypso elements and tropical percussion for a dance-worthy, memorable cut. The latter is the record’s strongest moment, an emotive take on a failed relationship. The horn arrangements are subdued, accentuating the track without overpowering it while Arsenault and Miglis tell both sides of the story. It works to a much greater effect than the preceding track, “Suffer”, in which Arsenault spews venom about how “all my long-lost girlfriends should suffer” over a breakbeat, acoustic guitars, and flutes. He purposefully comes off as self-deprecating but doesn’t quite nail the tone.

Arsenault’s penchant for melodrama is on display throughout the record, and for the most part it hits all the right spots. While he spends most of the album going for the big moments where he can, he closes the album with the two-minute acoustic ballad “Don’t Make”, where he tries to teach a lesson through his heartbreak by imploring that “if you find someone you really love, never let them go.” Here, he barely raises his voice over a whisper, in contrast to his earlier shouts. For a record full of vulnerable sentimentality, it’s a fitting note to end on.

While Seraph is a consistent debut, there is nothing here as immediately drawing as “Why” or “Shame” from the Worthy EP. But Arsenault holding back is still more emotive than most artists firing on all cylinders. Mas Ysa is more than an artist with one trick to drive home again and again, and Seraph seems to promise that his best is still yet to come.

Essential Tracks: “Look Up”, “Margarita”, and “I Have Some”

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