Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Mas Ysa - Worth

In a potentially conflicting scenario, the debut EP from Montreal-born musician, producer & visual artist Thomas Arsenault, could likely have been passed off as a full-length debutant rather than a respective stepping stone for Arsenault's foot into the growing World of contemporary electronica. Spanning nine tracks and equating to just over twenty six minutes, the numeric statistics could have easily made this the case. Fortunately, Worth finds Arsenault flexing his aesthetic, as much his musical, muscles across a release taking in countless influences both through the full-winding compositions, and the intequel-like pauses for breath in-between, equally so. And for a guy who has travelled to as exuberant a location as São Paulo in one instance, and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Deerhunter & Purity Ring on tour, there's no doubting the possibility that Mas Ysa's palette is anything but vast and limitless. And on Worth, Arsenault finds a kind of festive engagement in tackling these sounds, with differing results, but all the while maintaining a sense of energetic confidence and promise with each idea being delivered. 

So while Vanya can be dismissed as merely a minute-long, take-it-or-leave-it prologue, the presence of a culminating whirling of woodwinds and tropic-like synth pads, at the very least, pays homage to Arsenault's geographic range of experience in looking for the perfect sonic atmosphere for his ideas. And though this is relatively quick to shake off and move away from, stand-out highlight (and lead track) Why expands on this notion with a six-minute burst of robotic-if-maddening drum beats that are preceded by Arsenault's star-struck vocals mixed with weightless key chimes and synthesizer tones. But the specific highlight of this gravity-free ride is of course the percussion, which by the near-end jettisons the listener into a frenzy of cymbals and hi-hat kicks that are glaringly synthetic, yet don't subtract from Arsenault's opposing synth plucks and booming vocals alike. Life Way Up From - the next non-interquel piece - takes itself away from the previous scurries; Arsenault instead giving his electronics something of a mellow early 90's pop vibe whilst at the same time pushing to match that of any present-day ambition with multi-tracking and replicating a sense of weightless joy.

Admittedly, the treatment becomes the speciality; the synth and percussion layers acting less lively, or to put it a better way, lower in their enticement upon their delivery. But on the title track, Mas Ysa's emphasis on dreamy, electronic space without limits turns a tad more wintry and blustery - trailing guitar strings barely recognisable amid a salvo of gale-force winds. In this respect, as is continued with on following track Shame, Arsenault gains further respect for his deviation away from cloud-drenched, sun-soaked visages through instrumentation, even if his vocals still carry that eager-eyed directness. Here, the percussion is treated with a little more opaqueness - sparse textures alongside the less glistening tones in the bellowing synths, suggesting Mas Ysa's emotive dialogue is more wider from that of previous compositions. The biggest presence of all these elements overall though is Arsenault's dynamics as a vocalist and how he interlinks his shift from hushed limitations to bellowing choruses in and amongst the instrumentation. With closing track Years - of which follows the quite serene-but-colourful tweeting of activity on brief offering Yes - Arsenault's unveils his most depth-inducing and potentially emotionally bare self in a track characterized entirely by Arsenault's ethereal vocal presence, as well as the music's singular ripples of synths that sound less like synth passages and more like something far more internal and (revealing perhaps) psychological too.

Given how ecstatic and animated Mas Ysa's sound has been up to this point, this is by far Arsenault's most engaging piece of the entire EP, and thanks to the latter grating screeches of string-like instrumentation, also one of his most haunting above all. Ending on such a note, it's fair to say Mas Ysa - while not entirely provocative or immersive in its content throughout - has a strong argument for keeping an eye on what Thomas Arsenault may be attempting to enact on more a contextual and narrative plane by the time a full-length LP comes knocking. Worth is certainly not a substantial piece; the balance between short and regular track-lengths potentially flagging Arsenault as having shallow knowledge in a vast array of sounds, as opposed to depth in a particular select few. But if there's one thing Worth demonstrates, it's that the Brooklyn-based Canadian can shift costume without giving off a flicker of discomfort. Given a few more listens however, and soon even the dispel of shorter tracks suggest this man, potentially, could be onto something.
~Jordan Helm 



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