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Vagabon’s Infinite Worlds is a flawless, genre-hopping debut

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Laetitia Tamko of Vagabon (Photo: Ebru Yildiz)
Laetitia Tamko of Vagabon (Photo: Ebru Yildiz)
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Vagabon

Album: Infinite Worlds
Label: Father/Daughter Records

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Infinite Worlds is full of surprises. Each of the four tracks on the album’s A-side has a section that throws you. It could be the first time the chorus hits in “The Embers,” or when “Fear & Force” transitions midway into contemplative R&B, or the pregnant pause in “Minneapolis,” eliciting the same kind of rush as a roller coaster’s first breathless drop, each one showing that Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko is fearless. What’s more, it all sounds effortless, so much of which can be credited to Tamko and her willingness to not conform to any single strain of indie rock.

Tamko lived in Cameroon during her formative years before relocating to New York, and the concept of independent music and a do-it-yourself framework was a new one—rigid adherence to genre seemed to be, too. Although she came up in the same New York scene that nurtured bands like Frankie Cosmos, Tamko didn’t search out that community so much as fall into it. And while it’s been a nurturing space for artists of different ilks to find commonality—and often collaborate—Tamko’s experiences and perspective, sadly, remain a rarity.

In many ways, Infinite Worlds plays like a more compact version of Solange’s masterpiece, A Seat At The Table. On “The Embers,” Tamko sings about the daily occurrences that put her personhood in question. Opening with the lines, “I feel so small / My feet can barely touch the floor / On the bus where everybody is tall,” Tamko brings you right into the moment, sharing her struggles and allowing the listener to commiserate with her in the process. Later on she sings, “I’m just a small fish / You’re a shark that hates everything / You’re a shark that eats every fish,” using a simple analogy as an empowering mantra. Even if Tamko sees herself as small and outnumbered, she’s not willing to get caught up in others’ games. She swims freely, unencumbered by the desire to let ugliness win.

Topics like these come up time and again on Infinite Worlds. On “Cleaning House” she takes phrases from intimate conversations with her friends and gives them a new context, allowing others to also be emboldened by these declarations of survival and personal agency. But it’s on the album’s closing track, the meditative “Alive And A Well,” when jaws will hit the floor. After the last strike on the acoustic guitar, things fall silent. Then people in the control room begin talking. Someone says, “I mean, that was it, right? That was insane,” and Tamko lets out a modest, inquisitive “what” in reply. It’s a small moment, but an evocative one. Tamko has said it was merely a run-through, not the real take, but the awestruck reactions of the onlookers convinced her to commit it to tape.

That interaction, which takes up all of two seconds on the record, encapsulates everything that’s special about Infinite Worlds. Tamko is such a marvel that she has the power to bowl over a room without even knowing it. In the eight songs that compose the record, there’s not a second that feels extraneous, making for 28 minutes of uncompromising and effortless genre-bending. It’s a stunning record, apparently for all parties involved.


Purchase Infinite Worlds here, which helps support The A.V. Club.