Carlos Casas - Pyramid of Skulls [Discrepant - 2017]Spanish avant garde composer Carlos Casas has been sporadically releasing music since 2008. He is also an established visual artist. His 2017 album "Pyramid of Skulls" is an immediately esoteric, rough-hewn organic collage of field recordings. There are four tracks, each fifteen-eighteen minutes in length, making for a lengthy seventy minute album.
Initially we get a sense of rustic domesticism. "Avesta", the first track, is built around tape hiss, crackling flames and spoken and chanted voices in a native tongue. Though I can't understand the words, they seem charged with intense feeling, as if recounting a painful formative memory. Halfway through around the seven minute mark, there is the introduction of some kind of melodic plucked string instrument, but the performance is digitally stretched and distorted, each note prolonged with clicking repetitions. The digital artifacts are as blatant and raw as the shufflings and domestic doings of the people in the field recordings, curiously seeming to highlight the imperfection of its methods.
In the final sections of side B and the first few of side B, we are overtaken and surrounded by rushing water and pumping machinery. The rest of the 2nd track features loops of hand drums and more faintly murmured chants. However, there are also some strangely sloppy, clashing elements such as loud, noodling keyboard solos and abrasive swells of bitcrunched noise. The music starts to feel too much like a careless, disorganized pile of mismatched timbres, some sharply, unapologetically digital and others unprocessed natural sound.
Side C, "Simporj Variations", is beautiful Indian classical music, with chanting, drums and a twanging sitar-like stringed instrument. There are few digital interferences in this piece, allowing total immersion in the heady, mystic melodies. It is unclear, to me, though, whether this is Casas himself performing or simply a sample from some old record? I don't feel I can blindly give credit to Casas for these sounds, and I doubt he is proficient in playing music of this kind, judging by the rest of the album. Perhaps it is actually a discredit to him that the greatest moment on his album is the section with which he interfered least.
The album has the feeling of a heavily overdubbed jam cassette in which the musician has gone thru and added various scraps of improvisation over the course of a long time. The pacing is meandering and there aren't really any dramatic or emotional progressions present. Certain types of elements do recurr frequently, such as the aformentioned native voices, as well as digitally degraded field recordings of storms and heavy rain. These are the closest thing to a theme this album has. There is a sense I get of primitivism, and surviving amidst the strength of the elements. It is a shame that grainy digital timbres frequently pull me out of this impression. For every beautiful, transporting timbre on this album, there is a corresponding moment where Casas' overbearing processing seems to have ruined the potential emotional power of the raw sounds he has gathered, such as the overly stretched instrumental solos. There are some worthwhile sounds on this album, but I find it tedious as a full 70 minute experience.Josh Landry