Ironico is Portuguese for “ironic.” I could almost use it in a sentence to correlate my previous experiences with the music of Portuguese guitarist/composer Rafael Toral. I was able to use his second solo album of extreme/gentle Loveless-washes, 1995’s Wave Field, to both fall asleep to (at a low volume) and wake up with (at a higher level). Seeing him twice in a live setting never failed to put me to sleep, though, and with his latest outing, Electric Babyland/Lullabies, it seems as if he’s come to terms with the Sandman and decided to indulge in the creation of some legitimately sleep-inducing tunes.

Toral’s concentration on each of his records has always been on isolated sound objects and the process of making long-form pieces out of them. Albums like Wave Field— or his last album for the prestigious experimental label Touch, Violence of Discovery and Calm of Acceptance— focused on his Fender Jaguar for most of the coaxed sounds, while his Aeriola Frequency was composed from the non-sounds of two delay pedals with no inputs.

The first five tracks of this new album are sourced from a little music box, comprising almost a half hour of clean rings and distorted metallic melodies either glitched up or left to make a slowly solidifying sustain of held tones. The first half of the record tinkers around without much success, not quite settling to sleep as much as turning restlessly, without a satisfying position of rest. The disc starts to wind up (or perhaps down) with the third piece, “Rdm”, plunking the tongs in its most straightforward way. It twinkles like Sun Ra’s “Medicine for a Nightmare” melody, the speeds tweaked in the middle as it both warps fast and then slows before finally reaching a shimmering stasis.

“Dne”, at nearly ten minutes, is more methodical in its gleaning of the music box melody. It starts off steadfastly, as Toral builds up an incessant plucking. The physical motion almost crackles as the underlying vibration slowly wakens into itself, soon blanketing the track with a very warm dreamscape that seems to embody the deepest stage of beatific sleep.

“My Head on Your Shoulder Feels Like Home” opens the Lullabies section of the album, continuing the music box theme as its foundation. Here, the tinny melody becomes heavily distorted, but its gurgling only coos briefly at a minute or so, and it never has a chance to sink deeper. “Little Stars” recreates the instrument’s soft twangs on guitar, approaching the lilt of a lullaby for an indifferent two minutes. The final track, though, “Bodyjoya Mix Pt. 12: Dreaming into the Locked Groove”, takes the fuzzy notes of the guitar and rocks them into a low-level hum, and then keeps it on that almost imperceptible plane for a good 13 minutes of dreamy effervescence. It seems less ironic than intentional that the two sleepiest movements of the disc are what keep it interesting in the end.
Andy Beta