Tomas Barfod is for all intents and purposes an electronic musician, but that label takes on a different meaning depending on which of his projects you’re hearing. Barfod kicks out straight-up house music with Kasper Bjørke in their duo, Filur. As a member of the Danish trio WhoMadeWho, the producer and drummer explores experimental electro pop. And on his solo work, Barfod falls somewhere in between.
His full-length debut, Salton Sea, came out on Friends Of Friends in May 2012, and it perfectly melded the driving rhythms of his one side with the pop craft of his other. “November Skies” with Swedish singer Nina Kinert was the best song on that album because beneath the gauzy net Kinert cast over everything were all kinds of beats: ones that crackled in the corners of your speakers, ones tapped out with drum sticks and ones that pulsed warmly underneath, driving the entire operation. On his sophomore album, Love Me, Barfod has lost the warmth and the drive that made his debut work.
Like he did on Salton Sea, Barfod utilizes a host of guest vocalists and alternates between instrumental and vocal tracks. The album is bookended by a soft entrance from Luke Temple of Here We Go Magic on “Bell House“ and a lazily floating outro with Mississippi-based rapper Pell called “Lost.” Barfod and Jeppe Kjellberg, the guitarist for WhoMadeWho who also plays throughout Love Me, co-produced Pell’s song “Eleven: 11” off of the rapper’s recently released Floating While Dreaming. Sure, the Migos flow Pell employs on that track wouldn’t exactly mesh with Barfod’s vibe on Love Me, but the producer’s success with crossing hip hop and electronic music on that song make the failure on “Lost” all the more evident.
Barfod announced in January this year that he had signed to Secretly Canadian, and the label put out his Pulsing EP in February. The EP’s title track appears on Love Me, and it offers a bright moment thanks to a stronger rhythm and the presence of Kinert. She spends more time rushing to pack as many words per beat as she can than letting her voice soar, and the result is a tightly wound electro-pop song. A light synth line from “Pulsing” leads directly into “Destiny’s Child” and is permitted to break open and build in this instrumental track. Barfod quarantines his most experimental moments to songs without vocals, but he would’ve benefitted greatly from more spillover, which he allows in moderation on the slinking “Honey” featuring Sleep Party People.
Barfod wanted to add a human touch to his music this time with live drums, guitar and horns. He even uses a string section to complement Kinert’s coo of “meet me after dark” on “Aftermath.” The approach backfires though because Barfod tightens the reins when using people rather than machines. Maybe he felt the need to add more structure because playing instruments is a lot less predictable than pushing buttons, but in doing so, he restricted the music’s movement. Barfod has more faith in his electronics, and when he’s playing something he trusts, he permits the songs to venture out and reach greater emotional heights. But that comfort doesn’t extend to his human players, and his hesitation to let go and explore permeates the album.