This Mas Ysa article was written by Matty Ayre, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse
‘Seraph’ is Thomas Arsenault’s first full length LP under the moniker of Mas Ysa and it’s a bold and ambitious record that does not cling to any one particular genre. ‘Seraph’ follows on from Arsenault’s 2014 EP, ‘Worth,’ which was a pleasing debut that mixed electronic beats with crooning, powerful vocals.
Take one look at Arsenault’s live set up, or study Mas Ysa’s sprawling electronic rig on his recent KEXP performance and you might be forgiven for thinking that the artists music might lean heavily towards EDM and veer away from traditional song writing structures.
However, ‘Seraph’ is a record that exemplifies the growing trend amongst alternative singer-songwriters who have started to look to other instruments for sources of inspiration and explore other genres. In recent years, it would seem that perhaps the most interesting offerings from solo musicians, have been those in which the artist has not been afraid to ditch guitars in favour of utilising other methods of creating music.
We are seeing a wave of new solo artists bridge the gap between traditional electronic genres and alternative indie music, such as ‘In Colour’ by Jamie XX which has been tipped to win this year’s Mercury Prize and features a diverse mix of tracks that draw inspiration from an array of musical styles. Similarly, the brilliant ‘Culture of Volume’ by East India Youth is another highlight of this year and features a collection of contrasting songs that highlight the artists feel for experimentation. Perhaps, some of 2015’s most exciting music has been created by solo artists who aren’t afraid to stick within a clearly defined genre and who demonstrate a flexible approach to song writing.
This brings us to ‘Seraph’: a record full of intriguing ideas, yet it never quite manages to deliver. The album’s title track and opener, sets the general experimental feel of the record immediately. ‘Seraph’ starts with a frenzy of bleeping synths and driving drum beats, whilst Arsenault pours emotion into his lyrics. Arsenault has an incredibly melodic voice, but you can’t help but feel that some of his qualities are lost amongst the array of odd bleeping noises that feature on the track.
‘Margarita’ is perhaps the best song on the album and is a far cry from the album’s opener, as Arsenault exploits his melodic capabilities to magnificent effect. The annoying synth bleeps of the first track have been forgone in favour of pan-pipe tones which works surprisingly well. The track was written about Arsenault’s relationship with his mother, and is a fittingly beautiful track that also sounds unique and original.
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‘Look Up’ is another highlight. The track blends wavy tremolo synth patterns over electronic drum beats, but Arsenault again adds a twist, as he throws in a Spanish acoustic guitar, which goes on to become the main instrument throughout the song. ‘Look Up’ climaxes with a brilliant acoustic solo which has a distinct flamenco feel to it, giving the track a powerful and unexpected ending which perhaps best portrays Arsenault’s ability to utilise different tones and textures which normally wouldn’t work together.
However, ’Seraph’ suffers because there are too many tracks on the record which are simply too easy to skip. ‘Gun’ is a slow burner, which also features textured female vocals that accompany Arsenault’s voice well. However, the song fails to climax and is completely forgettable. Oddly, the next track on the album, ‘Service,’ is a fast paced techno instrumental, which mixes intense oscillating synths with church bell sounds. The two tracks seem completely out of place with one another, and you can’t help but feel that the records experimental emphasis creates a lack of coherence with ‘Seraph’s’ track listing.
Tracks like ‘Arrows’ and ‘Running’ demonstrate the power of Arsenault’s voice, and it is impossible to predict where either track will end up once initially pressing play. Arsenault should be commended on his unique ability to craft songs which constantly change direction. ‘Arrows’ explodes into life on the two minute mark, transforming the song from its spacious piano birth, into a completely different style, filled with pulsating EDM-esque synth lines. It’s an exhilarating ending to the track but also one that feels out of place with some of the slower songs on the record.
‘Don’t Make’ ends the LP and fittingly, it sounds nothing like any of the other tracks on the album. Arsenault sounds vulnerable as he reflects on a broken heart, and his voice is at its most melodic here, whilst accompanied by a haunting acoustic guitar. It’s the most straightforward song on the album, but also the most beautiful, as we get to hear Arsenault’s brilliant voice without any other sounds to disturb it.
‘Seraph’ is one of the most interesting and original albums that you will hear all year but unfortunately, Mas Ysa’s attempt to create something distinctly fresh and experimental means that the record feels like a collection of individual tracks, rather than a coherent album with its own character and flavour.
‘Seraph’ is out now via Downtown Records.