Release Date: Feb 24, 2017
Record label: Father/Daughter Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
"Safe spaces" can be hard to come by when you're a POC artist -- especially in predominantly white music communities -- but when Cameroon-born artist Laetitia Tamko moved to New York city, she began to find nurturing communities that felt loving, supportive and more inclined to embrace her for who she is. Tamko, who goes by the alias Vagabon, is a multi-instrumentalist with a knack for poetic storytelling, a gift that proves effective as she channels her experiences on her striking debut album, Infinite Worlds. Across these eight songs, Tamko both waxes intimate, telling tales of self-doubt and introspection, and stands tall, giving her fearless take on genre-surfing rock anthems delivered with gusto, shifting between savoury punk-rock belting and gritty yet harmonious vocals.
Just about 20 minutes into Lætitia Tamko's compact debut as Vagabon, Infinite Worlds, she sings a line so cutting that, upon first hearing it, I had to remove my headphones and take stock of my surroundings. "What about them scares you so much?/My standing there threatens your standing, too," Tamko sings on "Cleaning House," broadcasting a simple but eminently resonant message that defines why these eight songs feel so important, especially now. It should be no secret that Tamko's thought runs through the minds of all those made marginal by prejudicial thinking--and actual executive action.
Growing up in Cameroon before moving to New York - where she hopped between Harlem, Yonkers, and studying engineering at CUNY - Lӕtitia Tamko’s moniker is something a nod to her roving journey to now. As is Vagabon’s debut; ‘Infinite Worlds’ is a jumble of fuzz-wrapped postcards and remembered snapshots. ‘Mal à L’aise’ muddles snatches of muttered French with skittering percussiveness and Clangers-synths, while ‘Cold Apartment’ shivers with tenacious drum-pounds, and the post-break-up welly of cruel hindsight.
Vagabon's Infinite Worlds is read in the scuzz school of indie rock - DIY, here's-one-I-made-earlier impudence, with a cultivated affection for minimalism - but is imperatively informed by Laetitia Tamko's experience as a black woman, and as a first-generation immigrant from Cameroon. While she successfully taps into 2017's thirst for alt-indie sounds, it's her sophisticated storytelling which spoons you, the eloquence with which her basic fables unfurl into infinite worlds of emotional complexity. Take 'The Embers', the lead single and opening salvo; an initially retiring quaver, cuddled by wrinkled drones, erupts into a soaring riff and steadfast avowal of self-assurance.
The first sound heard on Vagabon's debut album Infinite Worlds is Laetitia Tamko's voice. Equal parts smoky croon and swooping shout, her vocals hook listeners right away and don't let go until the final notes of the album trail away. In between the opening indie rock-heavy "The Embers," which features grinding guitars and the kind of early-'90s dynamics that would make Tsunami proud, and the last song, "Alive and Well," a haunted indie folk ballad, Tamko takes on a wide range of styles and sounds.
On the surface, what initially sounds like a frivolous meander down well-trodden musical paths reveals itself as having a much weightier purpose. Recording as Vagabon, Cameroon-transplant Laetitia Tamko's Infinite Worlds explores universally-linked themes of cultural detachment, personal loss and perseverance, its deeply-felt subject matter more often than not out of sync with its more immediate sounding musical counterpart. Right away, the energetic "The Embers" introduces a transitory life, one where Tamko's "feet can barely touch the floor/ on the bus where everybody is tall," acutely aware she's "just a small fish/ and you're a shark that eats every fish.