Rating: 84 ★★★★
by Blanca Méndez
Prolific songwriter Tomas Preuss and his bandmates Jessica Romo and Felipe Moreno take their name seriously. They make music that is primal and instinctive and untarnished by modern embellishment. The band was inspired by Fernando Pessoa’s ideas about human imperfection that he expressed in The Book of Disquiet (“everything we do, in art and in life, is the imperfect copy of what we thought of doing”), as well as his ideas about the complexity of self and the many separate selves in each person ("my soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony”). Prehistóricos’ debut album, La Orquesta Ocúlta, explores all of these complexities and imperfections thoughtfully and honestly. Like Mahler’s most poignant symphonies (think Nos. 5 and 6), the album strategically reveals its secrets one by one, unraveling a spool of sound that is intimate and raw, becoming more and more vulnerable as you approach the core. And at that core is bare emotion, delicate and visceral and unafraid of its own truth. This simultaneous fragility and nerve is what defines the album.
“Sueños muy largos” begins with dreams that are confused for reality and is mirrored musically with ethereal vocals and eerie echoes that create a hazy dreamscape that makes it difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what is just a dream. By contrast, the rest of the album feels very real. “Ya no te espero” is quiet and minimalistic to match the song’s tone of resignation until its sudden, yet stealthy surge near the end, an outburst of resentment, which is quickly hushed and reduced to a whisper.
Normally, a line like “eres la luz mas bella” would induce nausea, but in the case of “Balada sin nombre,” it doesn’t offend me because it sounds so sincere that I have no choice but to believe it. And the last line of the song is a total cliffhanger. Preuss sings “deja que esta vez nadie sea testigo de lo que va pasar cuando descubras mis ojos,” then there’s this spacey outro and you’re all, what will happen? I want to know! “No tenemos remedio” is a lovely arrangement with ambient sound and whisper layering at the end that is ghostly, like the last vestiges of a long-fought battle slowly evaporating. This is reminiscent of Milan Kundera’s compelling philosophical work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Like the pain of existence so aptly related in Kundera’s melancholy tale, La Orquesta Ocúlta is so moving you almost can’t stand it.
The most beautiful song on this album full of beautiful songs, “Como las piedras,” begins playfully, with a light melody like raindrops on the still surface of a lake. The song appeals to those of us with hippie tendencies, what with the protagonist comparing himself to a tree and stones and all. But instead of becoming a Mitakuye Oyasin ode to Mother Earth, it builds into a love song. The final part of the song in which Preuss sings about wanting to enter your heartbeat is like the subtle swell of the Andante Moderato movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. Such longing! In fact, there’s so much yearning in this entire album that, in the end, you feel as if you’ve witnessed a beautiful tragedy. It’s like the final scene between Tereza and Karenin in The Unbearable Lightness of Being in which Karenin’s parting gift is a smile and you find yourself, like Tereza, smiling through the tears.