f the name TomBoy doesn’t immediately conjure up a beat or tune and send it running willy-nilly around the salty corridors of your neural network, that’s okay. However, those who linger where disco is daily sliced, bent, divided, folded, and reshuffled will nod sagely, though they may know him best as Thomas Barfod, one member of sly Danish cut-ups WhoMadeWho. They may also recall with a twinge of longing the 2006 Gomma Gang 3 compilation, on which Barford’s tracks were the binding agent, the proverbial egg yolk holding the aioli together. The first three vinyl outings—handily named 1, 2, and 3—delivered skeletal disco-dubs with anthropoid leanings. Last year’s 4 proved the intuitive leap forward—shards of electro, hip-hop, and post-Prince Jammy dancehall veering around the room in shuffling tangents, a nerve-wracking atmosphere of possibilities. Yet, still, someone seems to be knock-knock-knocking at the gate....
Seriøs is the sound of Barfod swinging that merry gate right open. Side one, track one, first bar: suddenly, we hear a voice in the room. It’s the voice of a woman, even! As though admitting right off the bat that he won’t attempt to sustain the length of an entire LP with instrumentals alone, Barfod (who probably was thinking nothing of the kind) introduces a voice for the entity known as TomBoy. The single voice becomes many voices as Seriøs develops: a man singing and cod-rapping (the same man? two men? Munk?), a woman (the same?) and a man duet on “Synchronize” and “The Møvies.” The addition of vocals to the TomBoy stew signals the change taking place, but is far from the only stylistic leap that occurs on the album. The most significant of these meta-jumps is the overt trend towards what we might call warmth. It’s an acknowledgment of humanity that the vocals hint at, but it’s present in the newer instrumentals in spades. It’s in the very jazz-infused ending of “Murky Jerky,” the cosmiche wonder of the fabulous/mysterious “Flameingo,” and the loopy fantasia of “Zåmiang.”
For fifty-two minutes TomBoy takes us through a mega-mix of disparate styles and ür-dance patchworks sewn together to form that rare electronic album that obtains coherency by embracing the many over the one. Like Mylo’s Destroy Rock N’ Roll, Daft Punk’s Homework, The Juan Maclean’s Less Than Human, and a myriad of other dance full-lengths from the past ten years, Seriøs wins by establishing a signature sound but managing variety; by avoiding overreaching ambition and excessive repetition but keeping coherence. It’s part of the continuing story of dance-based artists incorporating the immediacy and structure of pop music into their songs without sacrificing the sheer thrill of body response. TomBoy’s characteristic sound remains a melting-pot of post-disco styles gleaned from thrift store 12” instrumentals (early house, Italo, boogie, ‘80s R&B, electro), but the amount of contrast and eccentricity has been multiplied. So we get “Murky Jerky,” which seesaws a modern dancehall rhythm against live-sounding hand-percussion and pure analog synth tones, or “Something,” with its combination of boogie backing and deep-house trappings, or “Synchronize,” slick electro-pop à la “White Horse” or “Wordy Rappinghood” with Teutonic funk vocals and a wicked bounce.
The advance guard of minimal-minded techno would have it that music like this is formulaic and reductive—the ordinary person would call it “retro.” Well, it is and it isn’t. None of the noise being made here hasn’t been made before, but the synthesis of ingredients and the end product are personal and unique, and most importantly sound new. So we end up with practical constructions that still invoke the soul. In the spirit of the utilitarian instrumentals on the earliest TomBoy vinyls, Barfod has delivered an album to tickle the fancy of your favorite selector—most everything here could neatly fit onto one of fourteen different set lists. But these aren’t DJ tools, these are songs. While not having it as a mission statement per se, the Gomma family seems to be on some kind of crusade to re-inject spontaneity and whimsy into the often excessively staid world of German techno and house. TomBoy typifies that approach: deep, hard-hitting grooves that aren’t afraid to get just a wee bit goofy. I gotta say it—Seriøs is some serious fun.