Artist of the Week: Mas Ysa
By Stephanie Roush
Two years ago a scarcely known act opened for Deerhunter on their North American tour. He captured Deerhunter’s audiences with his refreshing sincerity onstage and his “throw caution to the wind” attitude that lends itself to the type of performance that you play over and over again in your head. Meet Thomas Arsenault, or better yet, meet Mas Ysa. Arsenault has created, through a mixture of 80s weird science and 00s indie nostalgia, an act and sound that is as singular as it is mesmerizing.
His major-label debut, Seraph, which was released in late July on Downtown Records encompasses his grand range of musical abilities and talents. He is at once a producer and a songwriter, although neither term seems completely apt for his eclectic musical stylings nor his searing live act. Seraph follows up his EP from last year, Worth, which feels like a mere overture in comparison: a preface to the novel.
Arsenault studied modern composition at Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music after experimenting with electronic music production while he was in high school in São Paulo, Brazil. After Oberlin, Arsenault moved west to assist cult artist Warner Jepson, although he eventually found himself, as all musicians who initially lie to themselves do, in Brooklyn. Arsenault threw himself into the recording scene, working at a recording studio with the like of Cass McCombs and other New York heavyweights.
Mas Ysa was performed before anything was ever written. Arsenault’s experimental foray into performing live just happened to strike the right chord with the Brooklyn indie community. His heart-wrenching performance that relied on the tropes on traditional folk acts eventually garnered him enough of a reputation to land him a gig opening for bands like Deerhunter and Delorean.
Sourcing inspiration from frenetic 80s disco to the beautiful synth-pop-sadness of his peers like Youth Lagoon and Autre-Ne-Veut, Arsenault knows how to capture the raw grit of human emotion in his music. When you see him live his anguish becomes palpable, slowly infiltrating your own emotional state. With songs like “Shame” and “Why” Aresenault doesn’t shy away from tackling the most tabooed human experiences. On tracks like “Margarita” he provides enough pulsing groove and synth-infused xylophone noises to make it a dance track.
Arsenault, as a musician, producer, and person is a chameleon. His uncanny ability to match music to emotion and vice versa sets him apart from his peers. He can ignite a M83 dance party frenzy when he wants to, but he also knows he can rip your heart out of your chest with his pared-down brutality à la James Blake. Mas Ysa, as a musical project, remains in its infancy, and as time goes on Arsenault will continue to iterate upon his own sounds, tastes, and textures. Arsenault’s endgame may be unknown, but his current musical output places him among the best in show for 2015.