Upon first blush, I felt Rafael Toral’s Space Elements Vol. III was taunting me with its hiccups, gurgles, flitters, skitters, taps, titters, squawks, scrapes, pitters, patters, jibbers, and jabbers. I couldn’t get comfortable while it was playing; it was like a shirt that didn’t fit my proportions, hanging awkwardly and bunching up in all the wrong places. It represented edginess in my mind — not in mind and spirit, but in my veins; three cups of hard coffee and a post-lunch round of double-shits (too soon?) will do that to a man.
At times like these, a reviewer can be overcome by bile and scratch out a lovenote to their own short-sightedness or push on until the jackhammer turns into a wet, welcoming mouth. I’m proud to say I chose to surge forward, and the reward, as each listen has unfurled wrinkles I hadn’t given full shrift, has been one of the most encouraging and challenging aural experiences I’ve had this year. Toral mixes obscure instruments together and around each other so deftly that it’s like a refined Secret Mommy exchanging absurdities with Kaada (other Mike Patton co-conspirators, chiefly minimalist-Fantômas, come to mind), Hoor-Paar-Kraat, a couple of improv rats off the street, and a well-mannered Graveyards, then sanding the results down until only the firmest, most salient elements remain. (Many of them are sliced/diced to bitz.)
Micro-solos abound — “flippety-flip DOO-BAP” — as do understated percussion, chirps, and general choppiness. You can’t wrap your head around anything for more than a few seconds, and the cloud drifting in never has much to do with the one that preceded it. It all hangs loosely together like a wizard’s sleeve hanging off his bony arm, and the success rate of these odd instrumental pairings (squeaked clarinet and metal brushes; soft street bells and subtle “tap”s; cymbal-tom slaps and… SHIT, I DON’T KNOW WHAT ANY OF THIS IS) is near-perfect.
To imbibe Space Elements while dealing with the hot mess of daily life is to glance at a painting in the middle of several text messages. You must focus and, if possible, close your eyes. The crashes and sudden “thwacks” will seem jarring at first, and that’s exactly why you must keep listening; why do extreme JOLTS trouble you so much? And can you find the magic in wondering what will happen from second to second (as opposed to the “magic” of knowing exactly what’s going to happen all the time)?