Vagabon Explores Identity Through the Dreamland of 'Infinite Worlds'
Schuyler Mitchell | March 9, 2017, 11:33 p.m.
The music of Lætitia Tamko, better known by her stage name Vagabon, is simultaneously saccharine and heartbreaking. On her debut album, Infinite Worlds, Tamko refines tracks from her previous demos and EPs to create a stunning collection of eight songs that have garnered accolades from Pitchfork to NPR.
Tamko grew up in Cameroon, moving to New York with her family just before entering high school. In interviews, Tamko has shared how adjusting to a culturally different and predominantly white space as an adolescent woman of color was no easy task. On Infinite Worlds, this experience is woven together with meditations on the female body and what it means to “take up space.”
In the opening lines of the first track, “The Embers,” Tamko sings with very little backup music, “I feel so small, my feet can barely touch the floor on the bus where everybody is tall.” The guitar and drums then swell into an indie rock ballad, with Tamko singing in a girlish indie voice, “I’m sorry I lost your cat, it’s just that I was so mad.” The track is whimsical, though not quite lighthearted, setting a mood for the album that Pitchfork dubbed “magical realism.”
The second song, “Fear & Force,” features hand claps and breathy female backup vocals. A dreamy guitar riff and a light tinkling of chimes gives the listener a feeling similar to the experience of watching particles of dust float around in beams of light. “I’ve been hiding in the smallest space/I am dying to go; this is not my home,” sings Tamko.
“Mal à L’aise” is a vaporwave-esque song, featuring dreamy synths and whispered, floating French. I’m not sure what’s being said exactly, but it’s a pretty, ambient interlude that fits well as the album’s middle track, providing some variety while still feeling authentically Vagabon.
While it’s hard to pick a single favorite song from all the glittering gems that constitute Infinite Worlds, I would have to say that the album’s sixth track, “Cleaning House,” is a strong contender. It is in this song that Tamko’s voice sounds the rawest, the heaviest. It’s an aching, honest track, featuring the cutting lyrics, “What about them scares you so much? My standing there threatens your standing too/No longer yearn to be gentle, pure, sweet, not intimidating yet sure.” As a person experiencing a world that constantly tells women to shrink themselves, these words struck a personal chord.
I think Jenny Gathright put it best when she wrote her review of Infinite Worlds, “That a black woman dares to create, especially in the #SoWhite world of indie rock, is revolutionary. But the revolution lies not just in Tamko's mere existence in the scene, but in her artistic intervention there: Infinite Worlds is the most powerful meditation on the politics of space I've heard since Solange's A Seat At The Table.”
Vagabon has quickly become one of my favorite artists, and I can’t wait to see where Tamko goes next — I have the feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future.