Back in the summer of 2012, Danish dance music polymath Tomas Barfod released his debut solo album, a sophisticated mesh of electronics called Salton Sea. Lauded by the likes of Pitchfork, Dazed & Confused and Gorilla vs Bear, the acclaim took Barfod slightly by surprise. Its success has paved the way for the follow-up, Love Me, an album that takes Barfodâ€™s spirit of adventurousness and raises the stakes. Utilising a supporting cast that includes a string and brass section, and musicians like Here We Go Magic’s Luke Temple and long-term collaborator Nina K. on vocal duties, it’s a multi-layered album that effortlessly pushes and pulls dance and electronic music into a myriad different shapes.
Barfod was first exposed to the indefinable lure of the electronic music scene not by clubbing (that came later), or by specific acts, but by a long-forgotten film featuring a section set in a club. â€śI think it was after I watched a bad movie about raves in the 1980s that I became fascinated by it all,â€ť he laughs. Early musical influences ranged from the likes of Goldie, Massive Attack and Portishead, to Goa trance and techno, before drifting into house and disco. These influences subsequently manifested themselves in the acid disco-inspired club-bangers Tomas released as Tomboy via Gomma records and the ambient techno he unleashed on Kompakt.
Says Barfod â€śI started playing drums when I was 10 and then I joined different bands. Then I started playing turntables. So I had about ten years of musical experience before I started making my own music.â€ť Part of that experience came in the shape of his band, WhoMadeWho, who he formed in 2004 alongside two fellow Danes, guitarist Jeppe Kjellberg and singer and bassist Tomas HĂ¸ffding (Barfod plays drums and produces).
While the crystalline rush of Salton Sea was created mainly in fits and starts, these new songs are more precise, more defined and ultimately crafted into more fully-formed songs. â€śSalton Sea was a bit more of a laptop album whereas with this new one I spent more time working with analogue gear and bringing in string arrangers and using Jeppe’s guitar playing,â€ť he says, referencing his WhoMadeWho bandmate. â€śI’ve been getting into more vintage synthesizers on this new one too. I think there’s a bit more of a focus on the songs.â€ť While still keeping his debut’s intimate delicacy and beautiful sense of fragility, this follow-up is also more audacious, as showcased on the sweeping strings of the lovely â€śAftermathâ€ť. â€śThe first one was done kind of randomly when I had some time. I’d do a track maybe on my laptop in the hotel. This one I had a budget so I had the chance to do some things I normally wouldn’t be able to do.Â For instance, bringing in strings and things like that. I feel like I’ve had much more time and the chance to notch everything up a bit.â€ť That’s not to say that it’s been over-produced to rid it of all its soul, mind you. Asked if he’s a perfectionist, Barfod replies, â€śBoth yes and no. In some ways I am and in some ways I’m not. I believe that what works instantly is almost always the best thing. I have done everything to make this album as organic as possible. I’ve been exploring the randomness of real people and analog equipment, which means that most instruments on the album are not straight – either on the beat or on the pitch. For example, most of the drums, both acoustic and electronic, are played live and not corrected by the computer and I have live horns, guitar, bass, percussion and even a full string arrangement on the album.â€ť
This coalescing of the real and the analog is highlighted by the guest vocalists, who range from long-term collaborator Nina Kinert on the lovely electro-squelch of â€śPulsingâ€ť and the bouncing electro-pop of â€śBusy Babyâ€ť, former Charles & Eddie legend Eddie Chacon (on the twitching mesh of synths that is â€śHappyâ€ť), and American singer-songwriter Luke Temple on the poignant â€śBell Houseâ€ť. From the start Barfod was acutely aware that in order for these songs to come to life they needed to have vocals, even if piecing it all together was like finishing a puzzle. â€śOften I’ll have a track that’s good but when the vocals are on it the songs grow so much,â€ť he explains. â€śIt’s always a big puzzle, actually. I have to pick the right songs for each vocalist and they write to it. Sometimes different people have been writing to the same tracks, so I then work out which ones work best.â€ť
With so much going on, it would be easy to assume that Barfod’s solo career is just a sideline, or a hobby in-between remixing, producing for other acts or working with WhoMadeWho. One listen to the Pulsing EP or Love Me, however, should make it very obvious that this is where his heart is. Love Me is many-textured, endlessly rewarding, an organic-sounding electronic album utilising real heart and soul, flitting between enigmatic instrumentals like â€śMandalayâ€ť and the bubbling drama of the keening, Night Beds-featuring â€śSell Youâ€ť. â€śMy career so far has been pretty random,â€ť he laughs. â€śIt all started with me saying ‘maybe I should put out a song’, then ‘maybe I should put out an EP’ and then the album, and that did well for me almost out of nowhere. I didn’t necessarily expect anything from it. With this album, however, I knew what I wanted to make and that I wanted people to like it.â€ť Mission accomplished.