Chances are, if you know Tomas Barfod at all, it's from his kinda-electro, kinda-disco, kinda-indie-rock band WhoMadeWho, most recently seen on Kompakt. But the Danish producer recently made a move to Los Angeles, where he found himself in contact with Friends of Friends' boss Leeor Brown. Friends of Friends have previously released the depressive hip-hop of Shlohmo and the anything-goes pastiche of Salva, but Salton Sea—also Barfod's debut solo album—is the most explicitly house thing the label has put out yet. In typical fashion, it's not very typical.
There's a liveliness and vivacity to Salton Sea that links up with label mate Shlohmo's pastoral murmurings and Ernest Gonzales' still life portraits. These aren't tracks made with drum machines and old synths (not entirely anyway). They sound as if they're built out of sticks and rubber, like the toy store percussion on "Baxter St" or the lolling mallet riff on "Till We Die." It's a house (or maybe techno) album in spirit—you wouldn't mistake the chugging arpeggiated bassline or strobelight drumming in storming opener "D.S.O.Y." for anything else, nor the labourious disco stomp of "Came To Party." But it's also so many other things, favouring climactic build ("Nighthawke") over a steady pulse, or a good vocal melody over a repetitive chord progression.
Perhaps reflecting his tenure in a bona fide rock band, Salton Sea features genuine pop songs and not mere token attempts, the stuff of persistent and virulent earworms. Swedish singer Nina Kinert steals the show, sweetening the bumpy ride of "Till We Die" and layering euphoria on a dangerously infectious ascent with "November Skies." The latter rises and rises on that same tactile percussion as "Baxter St," propped up by glistening rays of sunlight while Kinert's vocals are inflated with reverb. It's a completely unabashed reach for pure musical bliss that shouldn't work as well as it does, just as the theatrical string breakdown in "Don't Under" would be overcooked and melodramatic in anyone else's hands.
The other thing Salton Sea has over other dance albums is its elegant pacing; ebbing wisely between human vocal and programmed rigidity, there's an effortlessness to the affair. Whether it's when the speedy opener spills over into the woozy, sun-burned stumble of "Broken Glass" or the roller-coaster ride through the album's hallucinatory ending run of "Aether," "Nighthawke" and "Python"—one rushing-rapid of liquid synth after another—Salton Sea feels engineered for eminent listenability.
Tracklist 01. D.S.O.Y.
02. Broken Glass feat. Jeppe Kjellberg
03. Came To Party
04. Till We Die feat. Nina Kinert
06. Don't Under feat. Jeppe Kjellberg
07. Baxter St.
08. November Skies feat. Nina Kinert
10. Nighthawke feat. Lydia Ainsworth