My partner and I were listening to Patsy Cline the other day when she was reminded of a discussion she had had with a friend of hers. They too were listening to Patsy Cline, and she asked him if he thought she was really so heartbroken all the time. “Of course not,” he replied without a second thought. “She was rich and famous!” Thomas Arsenault, the New York-based, Quebec-born producer known as Mas Ysa, like Patsy Cline, is perpetually heartbroken. Even when the lyrics stray from romantic distress per se – Arsenault’s lyrics on Seraph are equally focused on family melodrama—his music always sounds like a breakup: played in a minor key, nervy and enormous yet intimate, because how can the world keep spinning on its axis when he feels this shitty?

Seraph, the full-length debut for Mas Ysa, arrives preceded by tours supporting Deerhunter, Purity Ring and Tanlines and the much-buzzed singles “Why” and “Shame” from 2014’s Worth EP. But unlike Patsy Cline, Mas Ysa is too weird to be rich or famous anytime soon. Arsenault sings to the cheap seats like Twin Shadow but warbles with gritty despair like King Krule. His lush, lo-fi production sprints, floats, and hiccups at the avant-pop intersection of Xiu Xiu, David Silviath, and Pet Shop Boys. Seraph shows a progression into tighter, more polished territory, with the glitchy interludes of Worth folded into more fully fleshed-out songs, but remains limber and breathy. Throughout, Arsenault’s sophistication is buoyed by a shambolic spirit.

The best moments on Seraph balance nervous energy with slick hooks. The instrumental “Service” follows orchestral synth swells as they struggle to keep up with a manic drum machine. “I Have Some” enlists a female vocalist for a faux-Zydeco shuffle in the girl-boy mode of The xx. The standout is “Suffer,” Arsenault’s new wave cri de coeur against moving on. “I don’t want another one!” he protests, and his anguish spills over into arpeggiated keyboards and a wailing pan-flute lick. Even the ideas that don’t quite reach full flower—such as “Garden,” the set-up for a power ballad that never comes—fit the album’s vision.

Mas Ysa’s emotional immediacy is the project’s most compelling feature. Yet the source of that immediacy, the lone-man-many-keyboards aesthetic, is also Seraph’s biggest drawback. The album was recorded just north of Poughkeepsie, but the sound is pure Brooklyn, where Arsenault once recorded the likes of Cass McCombs and Laurel Halo in a Kent Avenue work-live studio space. Much of Seraph is a familiar shade of retrograde—the blatantly bogus trumpets on “Arrows,” the shimmering sustains and blown-out mix throughout—that retreads the aughts’ revival of vintage synth-pop, without adding anything new. The compressed rhythms especially have the flat, dense delivery of a mid-level electronic drum kit. The dissonant synth wash on the title track is one of the few moments that show some lateral thinking. The songwriting chops exhibited on Seraph suggest Arsenault could excel equally making darkwave noise or full-blown chamber pop. Either way, Mas Ysa deserves an upgrade.

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