In an episode of the just-released fourth season of Bojack Horseman, Bojack (Will Arnett) keeps lying to his recently-discovered daughter, Hollyhock (Aparna Nacherla), only to tell the truth days/minutes/seconds later. A depressed alcoholic with three seasons of regret (and even more before that) already built up, Bojack’s discomfort with the truth is only partially played for laughs. Mostly, it encapsulates his desire to not feel further burdened by trauma, both the ones caused to and by him.

Thomas Arsenault (a.k.a. Mas Ysa) is not Bojack Horseman, but on his Untitled EP, he comes close. He seems less avoidant of honesty, but he also appears to be alone in these songs. So, when he’s asking someone if they’d told the truth, it’s almost certainly in a looking-at-yourself-in-the-mirror-in-utter-disdain way. The follow-up to his 2015 full-length debut, Seraph, Untitled is a fifteen-minute helping of introspection, frustration and plenty of dynamic synths. Those qualities were also present on Seraph and his knockout debut EP, 2014’s Worth. What made those releases special was how well Arsenault’s daring compositions worked in tandem with his emotions to create a cathartic effect like no other. On songs like ‘Shame’ and ‘Gun’, he sounded like he was performing for no reason but to make himself feel even slightly better. Those songs and others were deeply personal but universal, and not in a pseudo-New Age fashion.

Although Untitled keeps Arsenault on track, it’s curiously cold. Much of it was written while he was in Pueblo, Uruguay, recuperating from a head injury caused by a car accident. The title (or lack thereof) could be seen as stoicism to contrast the intensity of what he experienced, but the finished product feels stiff, lacking songs that render the listener breathless in anticipation of each new turn. Like before, there’s plenty of movement, but it seems more incidental than usual. In terms of connection, it’s more like an above-average first date than an instant soulmate encounter. It’s been released with an equally theoretically intriguing but overall lacklustre companion film, with vignettes for each songs, featuring (among other things), a non-humanoid horse, Lena Dunham, and Arsenault himself, somewhat gratuitously working up a sweat on an exercise bike.

The most compelling idea here comes at the start, and it’s one you wish he’d workshopped a bit more before executing it. Opener ‘MapQuest’ reminds you of the prehistoric time when you couldn’t just type an address into your fancy smartphone and get directions. No, you had to go to this website and print them out a couple hours before. Arsenault explains it as such in his charred, shouting vocals against fuzzy synth pads, and displays a decent, if somewhat trite wit: “Get used to nothing/ cuz that’s the minimum wage.” Using a somewhat-obsolete website as a catalyst for keeping your ambitions in check is novel, but the runtime is too brief to fully transcend gimmickry, and Arsenault retreads the vocal stylings of one of his best songs, ‘Why’.

‘MapQuest’ does, however, last longer and work better than ‘Untitled (Lake Hill, NY)’. As centerpiece/title track of this EP, it feels like an litmus test for fandom as synths blare and Arsenault’s intoxicated warble fades in and out for a minute and a half, asking, “Did you tell the truth? I know you don’t know it,” before it all cuts out abruptly. It’s an especially pointless endeavor, as those lines are reprised in much cleaner fashion on the next track, ‘Face’. The smooth woodwinds and comforting acoustic guitar that kick off ‘Face’ do a good job of wiping off the bad taste left behind by ‘Untitled’. It runs longer than any other song here and shows how much he can do when given a big enough canvas. He brings up snow in the chorus and then triggers a synth pad that sounds like the backdrop for an extremity-numbing winter scene. He briefly lands on piano balladry (“I was a young superhero/ I proved myself in outer space”) before getting back into rhythmic action. Though a good song, he’s still slightly undone by building up to a seemingly grand finale, only to end up with a hook that tries to be deep seemingly through subversion of expectations: “Lying when the truth sounds better.”

Since Seraph, Arsenault’s more stripped-back arrangements have improved. When he suspended the chaos for songs like ‘Garden’ and ‘Don’t Make’, they acted more like buzzkills than breathers. Here, in addition to the slower section on ‘Face’, there’s also ‘Hold Out’. The synth chord progression is fairly unmemorable, but Arsenault has strong control over his tone and his words. “Ignoring how the fireworks frame the empty beach/ Moving out is harder work than asking me to leave,” might register as shallow on paper, but he paces each syllable of this passage to feel vital.

Arsenault still has ideas. They’re especially present on closer ‘Appeal to the Panic’, which is, at times, reminiscent of one of Sufjan Stevens’ more lavish compositions, as he shifts into a more whispery tone and introduces horns into the mix. He also has his most direct moment, albeit through deliberately vowing avoidance: “I don’t want to do your grieving/ I don’t want to know what’s wrong/ I don’t want to speak sincerely.” What Arsenault speaks/sings about is completely up to him, of course. However, these feel more like unfinished drafts than completed narratives. On Untitled, it’s hard not to wonder if he’s intentionally holding back his ultra-expressive self that previously let us feel what he felt.