Three years after making the leap from the fields of modern dance composition and visual art to the land of indietronica under the guise of Mas Ysa, multi-talented Canadian Thomas Arsenault now unveils his debut album, Seraph.
As one might expect from a man with such an artistic background, the follow-up to last year’s Worth E.P. has a touch of the avant-garde about it, particularly exemplified by the 31-year-old’s distinctive intense and often gargling delivery, which at times sounds like he’s trying to impersonate an underwater Dalek.
“Look Up,” a bizarre melting pot of Arcade Fire-esque indie-disco, Spanish guitars and whirring helicopter sound effects, the equally shape-shifting prog pop-meets-EDM of “Arrows” and the literal bells and whistles that accompany the pulsing instrumental “Service” also prove that Mas Ysa is determined to carve his own path.
Arsenault’s genre-blurring approach works best when he’s baring his soul at the same time, as on the chest-beating 80s-inspired sax-rock of “Margarita,” in which he pleads with his mother not to die on him, and the chaotic breakbeat of “Suffer,” a venom-spewing kiss-off to an ex which suggests that you certainly wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
But Seraph can be just as captivating when it calms down. The beautifully melancholic “Garden” is the kind of quivering torch song that you’d expect to find on an Antony and the Johnsons record, while “I Have Some,” one of two tracks to feature Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis, is an unexpectedly charming foray into playful tropical pop.
Mas Ysa’s feverish approach can occasionally be exhausting, but overall, Seraph is a compelling heart-on-his-sleeve affair which suggests the art world’s loss is the music industry’s gain.