Laetitia Tamko has arrived. That’s the main takeaway from indie rock band Vagabon’s tightly-focused and versatile debut album Infinite Worlds, where the multitalented Tamko provides lead vocals and chips in on guitar, bass, drums, and synth. We’ve come face to face (ear to mouth?) with the next great musical polymath, one who seems capable of resisting the urge to indulge in her prodigious talent.
In a clear indicator of the album to come, the opening track “Embers” efficiently introduces us to all the complexities of Tamko. “I feel so small” she begins meekly, but thirty seconds later the tempo has quickened, the percussion has kicked in, and Tamko is roaring “run and tell everybody / run and tell everybody / run and tell everybody that Laetitia is,” and you imagine from the power of the anthem that she’s about to fill in the blank with a title worthy of her confidence, but then the music cuts to a crawl and Tamko is quietly reserved again, finishing “a small fish / a small fish / I’m just a small fish.” Within two minutes we’ve been introduced to both the breadth of Tamko’s confidence and the anxiety that frequently undercuts it. This is what it’s like to be human, and by acknowledging it Tamko’s voice quickly earns credibility.
And Tamko handles the potency of her ability with a verve beyond her years. The title “Infinite Worlds” hints at an intimidating palette that could trap an ambitious young artist into saying a lot but nothing at all. Yet Tamko restrains herself with remarkable skill; her songs are lyrically sparse and the album leaves long before it overstays its welcome, clocking in under 29 minutes. But though the physical length of the album doesn’t hint at “infinite worlds,” Tamko’s elliptical-yet-impactful lyricism will send your brain down all the necessary rabbit holes. One refrain goes, “holding onto my breath / as we ascend on to the twin cities / I called to talk without wanting to ruin the fun.” Her imagery is lofty, her syntax resistant to interpretation, but it gains credibility when it is immediately grounded by mundane anxiety. Again, this is what it’s like to be human. A philosophical voice is only credible if it is grounded in undeniable day-to-day existence.
“Infinite Worlds” is an undeniably young album, but its wisdom prevents this from being a detraction. It’s a wise album about what it’s like to be young, about the lost loves and paradigm shifts of one’s early 20s. The album is defined musically by this versatility, the ability for wisdom and youth to co-exist in the same person. The brokenhearted crooning of “Fear and Force” fades and “Minneapolis” immediately comes punk rollicking in, more raw and unpolished in every aspect than any other song. We then spend five minutes in a Tamko-bereft, synth-laden soundscape called “Mal a L’aise,” which echoes the musical interludes of Delorean and Broken Social Scene, before diving back into precise sketches of insecurity and change. The precision of the songs, which spend as long in the water as diving birds of prey, make the lingering moments all the more powerful. “Cold Apartment” is a song about moving on from a former love already moved on, its final strain “and we sit on my cold apartment floor / where we thought we would stay in love / stay in love,” and the final note lingers for fifteen seconds. Juxtaposed with the efficiency of the rest of the album, the reticence to move on is abundantly clear.
When the final song “Alive and a Well” comes to an end, we hear a brief segment of chatter in the recording studio. Producers confirm the quality of the just-recorded track, and all Tamko can add is a quiet, stunned, quasi-bewildered “whoa,” “okay,” and “what?” Her art takes something from her and we are lucky to bear witness. In less than a half hour we have met an astounding new artist. Equal parts confident and insecure, but always giving the music her all. It will be fascinating to see where her life takes her music. I can’t wait to find out.