Album Of The Week: Mas Ysa Seraph
Some weeks, the new-release calendar tops out at “pretty good,” and this is one of those weeks. I really don’t understand how shit like this happens. Last week, we got new albums from Tame Impala and Future and Wilco and Jason Isbell, and other than Wilco’s Star Wars (which is exciting simply by virtue of being a free-download album from a heritage band), all of them absolutely rule. (Plenty of people think Star Wars rules, too, and I respect that opinion even if the album sounds a bit brittle and half-formed to me.) And that’s been happening again and again lately: The release weeks so stuffed with greatness that I feel like I’m betraying three great artists just by picking one album over the others. On the flipside, we have weeks like this one, which admittedly haven’t happened very often this year. I’ve tried to get excited over a whole bunch of different albums this week, and I just haven’t been able to work myself up. I seriously considered picking “Jidenna’s ‘Classic Man’ 12 times in a row” as this week’s Album Of The Week, since I’d really honestly rather hear that than anything else right now. But that would open up a big and weird can of worms. So, instead, let’s talk about this Mas Ysa album. It’s pretty good!
Thomas Arsenault, the person who records as Mas Ysa, is difficult to pin down, and that’s probably the best thing about him. He’s lived in Montreal and San Francisco and Sao Paolo and New York and wherever Oberlin is. He’s scored modern dance productions and remixed synthpop groups. He sometimes sings in an angelic, reverby tenor and sometimes in a full, throat-wracked howl. He makes mostly electronic records, and he does it by itself, but “producer” somehow doesn’t seem like the right job title for him. (I’ve also seen people describe him as a “composer,” and that seems even more wrong.) Listening to his records, it’s hard to tell which sounds are electronic and which are made by actual physical instruments. His music drifts freely between ambient and synthpop and oblique dance and good old-fashioned indie rock. And he’s conclusively proven that you don’t need a full band to sound vaguely like Arcade Fire.
Mas Ysa made his name on last year’s Worth EP, which alternated between drifting, pretty synth-drone and big, chest-thumping psychedelic laptop-rock howlers. On Seraph, his first proper album, Arsenault pretty much smushes those two things together until they’re one thing, and the result is a pleasant drift that never settles on one genre for more than a few seconds and stays appealing and interesting throughout. All the individual sounds, like the glassy walls of keyboard on “Sick” or the happy-sigh New Order beeps of “Look Up,” have an impressive widescreen gloss to them. Arsenault’s voice has that quavery tone that was so popular among mid-’00s indie-dude singers, in which every word means so much that he just can’t choke it out without his throat catching. Some tracks play around with Euro-club house-thumps, which sounds shockingly good with this sort of singing and this sort of production. Nicole Miglis from Hundred Waters shows up on “Gun,” and her airy coo works as an absolutely lovely complement to Arsenault’s emotive gurgle. “Service” has some seriously badass Moroder-style Italo pulsing. There’s a lot to like here.
And maybe, for you, there will be a lot to love. Arsenault’s closest peer might be Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers, another indie auteur who pulls inspiration from wherever and whose songs seem to project meaning, even if you don’t necessarily know what that meaning is. Youth Lagoon has never really gotten past the “pleasant background music” stage for me, but that dude’s music means a lot to a lot of people. I suspect that the same will be true here. And even if you don’t end up loving this thing, it’s still an impressive piece of work, one that you should hear — if you can carve out the time. After all, there is a truly unprecedented amount of great music out there. If something is merely good, you can be forgiven for skipping it.
In conclusion, here’s former Stereogummer Corban Goble singing “Classic Man” at a house party in Chicago this weekend.
Seraph is out 7/24 on Downtown. Stream it here.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Ashley Monroe’s pleasant country throwback The Blade.
• Ducktails’ warm, shimmering St. Catherine.
• Omar Souleyman’s rhythmically lively Bahdeni Nami.
• Former Feeding People frontwoman Jessie Jones’ urgent, all-over-the-place self-titled debut.
• Antarctigo Vespucci’s restless emo lark Leavin’ La Vida Loca.
• On An On’s bright, burnished pop album And The Wave Has Two Sides.
• Locrian’s ambient metal brooder Infinite Dissolution.
• Robert Pollard project Ricked Wicky’s guess-what-this-sounds-like King Heavy Metal.
• Eleventh Dream Day’s spangled reunion effort Works For Tomorrow.
• Seven Davis Jr.’s emotive dance debut Universes.
• Capone-N-Noreaga’s rugged NY rap shoutfest Lessons.
• Killers side project Big Talk’s Straight In No Kissin’.
• The Carpark Sweet Sixteen Basketball Picture Disc 12 compilation.
• The all-star Southpaw soundtrack.
• Jessy Lanza’s You Never Show Your Love EP.
• Cyril Hahn’s Begin EP.
• Philadelphia Collins’ Derp Swervin’ EP.
• Chris Staples’ Cheap Shades EP.
• Count Counsellor’s Count Counsellor & The Childhood Heroes EP.
• Dirty Ghosts’ Cataract EP.