The music Laetitia Tamko makes as Vagabon is all about defiance. Be it odds, expectations, or cultural norms, it always seems to come back to being made to feel small. Whether its through internal or external forces, this sense of smallness is what drives her new album Infinite Worlds. It’s given to us right away in the first lines of opener “The Embers”, where she finds herself “on the bus where everybody is tall”. As a woman of color writing and performing in white male-dominated indie rock, there’s a lot of charged ideas and imagery for Tamko to grapple with here, but it’s the bravery and empathy she does it with that makes the record what it is. You can stream it now via NPR First Listen.
After the triumphant, aforementioned opener, which features references to feet that “can barely touch the floor” and being a “small fish,” we get the previously shared “Fear and Force.” With its serene verses and weightless refrain of “Freddy come back / I know you love Vermont,” it’s likely to be a favorite for many listeners, but it makes even more sense in the context of the record than it did as a single. It’s a distillation of Infinite Worlds’ two sides — the gentle, singer-songwriter Jekyll and the raucous, larger-than-life Hyde. She follows it with “Minneapolis,” which sits confidently in the latter, but then, Tamko pulls a complete 180 on synth-heavy, ambient interlude “Mal á L’aise.” Its meditative feel and location in the tracklist positions it as the album’s centerpiece, and the inclusion of sampled intonation “you know my kind” feels ruthlessly clever.
Vagabon’s last great burst of energy comes on tom-heavy rocker “100 Years”, but most of the album’s second half is dominated by the project’s acoustic, introspective side. These final three tracks may tend towards being “quieter”, but they also contain some of the loudest, clearest messages on the record. “Cleaning House” may ride a cool, laid-back groove, but it’s also a powerful reminder of your responsibility to speak up. “Cold Apartment” may center on loss, but it’s also about pulling yourself out of it. Closer “Alive and A Well” is somber and longing, but it’s also an ode self affirmation and appreciating what we have. There’s a lot of sadness on Infinite Worlds, the kind that can make a person feel helpless, but through her careful examinations and conclusions, Tamko towers above it.
Infinite Worlds is out February 24th, but if you want to catch Vagabon live, she’ll celebrate its release the next day at PhilaMOCA with Shamir and Julie Byrne. For tickets and more info, head over to XPN’s Concert Calendar.