Given that Tomas Barfod is the drummer in electro-pop outfit WhoMadeWho (most recently heard on the Kompakt release Brighter), one might expect his first solo LP, Salton Sea, to be a percussion-oriented collection, but said expectation would be wrong. While there are beats aplenty, the material shows the Copenhagen-born Barfod to be a composer and melodicist first and foremost, and whatever rhythmic skills he has form simply one part of a larger and impressive skill-set.
His WhoMadeWho roots come through loud and clear in the disco-fied overture “D.S.O.Y.,” which sports a pulsating, bass-driven groove that's as club-ready as anything on the album; by comparison, the later instrumental, “Baxter St.,” brings Barfod's bumping, house-driven club side to the fore. The album's pop side gets an early boost from the sweetly effervescent “Broken Glass,” which augments its inventive percussive swing with a vocodered turn by fellow WhoMadeWho member Jeppe Kjellberg. He later returns in more undoctored form for the melodramatic swoon of “Don't Under,” which nudges Barfod's material even further into WhoMadeWho's orbit. Such tracks show him as someone with not just an ear for hooks but as someone capable of threading them into fully worked-out song constructions. By alternating between vocal songs and instrumental tracks, it sometimes seems as if Salton Sea can't make up its mind as to whether it's a dance or pop album—not that Barfod probably minds one way or the other. It's clearly a very deliberately sequenced album, though that doesn't make it any the less satisfying for being so. And as often happens when vocal and non-vocal songs appear, it's the latter that are the less memorable. While a decent enough rhythm-based workout on its own terms, “Came To Party,” for example, can't help but feel slight when surrounded by songs that offer fully realized fusions of melodic vocal pop and dance rhythms.But whatever the album's weaknesses—and they are few—, it all comes together splendidly in the two cuts with Swedish singer Nina Kinert, “Till We Die” and, especially, “November Skies.” Up first, the former instantly catches one's ear with its poppy mallet percussive treatments and analog synth flourishes but then goes deeper the moment her silken voice enters to prop up the song's yearning vocal melodies (“Let's not be friends to hold on tight / Let us be lovers till we die”). It's “November Skies,” however, that's the album's coup de grace, something apparent from the moment Kinert's voice soars so rapturously over the luscious, house-powered base Barfod crafts for her to emote over. If a song ever deserved widespread airplay, “November Skies” is it. Admittedly, the three tracks that follow—“Aether,” “Nighthawke” (with vocals by Canadian-born film composer Lydia Ainsworth), and the grandiose “Python”—can't help but seem anti-climactic, even if, taken on their own terms, they're as solid as everything else on the album. No matter: “Till We Die” and “November Skies” argue powerfully for the WhoMadeWho member as a credible artist in his own right.