Unless you frequent hole-in-the-wall Brooklyn venues like 285 Kent and Glasslands, your first exposure to Thomas Arsenault’s music probably came in the form of “Why,” the debut missive from the Montreal-born artist’s Mas Ysa project. On the six-minute, multi-part epic, which flits back and forth between throbbing techno and Springsteen-tinted arena rock, his scream-sung lyrics read like the transcript from a therapy session in which Arsenault plays both therapist and patient. She said, “I know I don’t want you”/ And I said, “Why? I’m not that cute,” he howls, offering his own answer before presumably being given one even more devastating. When the track popped up out of the blue in September, it felt like the work of an artist whose sound had arrived fully minted.
But Arsenault’s been around for a while. From 2009 until 2011, he recorded under the name Ablehearts, making fractured, experimental folk music that involved running his voice through digital filters until it became unrecognizable as human. The songs often felt more like miniature exorcisms than pieces of music, and other than a few Bandcamp-only EPs, he was never satisfied enough with any of them to pursue a physical release. Up until March of this year, he ran a live/work space across the street from Brooklyn’s famous Domino Sugar Refinery, toiling tirelessly inside a studio frequented by the likes of Laurel Halo, Teengirl Fantasy and former Gang Gang Dance drummer Tim DeWit. That was, of course, until he got evicted. “It was an industrial space that wasn’t zoned for residential living, so I had a feud with my landlord and then they asked me to go,” Arsenault says over the phone. After packing up his things, Arsenault ended up driving two hours upstate, eventually settling near the town of Woodstock, where he’s since constructed a new studio. These decidedly more rural surroundings have provided Arsenault with something that his old neighborhood couldn’t: the privacy he needs to scream his heart out. “I’m yelling a lot, and it’s kind of irksome to imagine that I’m subjecting other people to that. Here, it’s good, because it’s just the birds I’m bugging.”