Vagabon: Vagabon (Nonesuch) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, July 2nd, 2020  




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Performing under the pseudonym Vagabon, Lætitia Tamko truly operates as a one-woman show on her self-titled sophomore album. Tamko was dealt more than a handful of setbacks in getting her latest release out into the world. Inspired by current-day poet Nayyirah Waheed, Tamko was unable to get Waheed's blessing for her album's original title and certain borrowed lyrics. Though reclusive, Waheed's micro-poems seem tailor made for appropriation so the decline seems a bit odd. Having to rework lyrics and album artwork that had already been produced also led to a delay in the album's release. 

Not only were a few hurdles thrown in at the finish line, Tamko also brings a totally reworked approach from her previous album and EP. Going from a scruffy and guitar-based indie rock sound, Vagabon is instead awash in synths and Tamko's front and center vocals. The unanticipated delays, forced reworking, and change in sonic direction, could have easily spelled disaster for many artists. Fortunately, Tamko has reshuffled the deck and flipped over a late year ace of an album. 

Though Vagabon's sound is entirely different from the auspicious debut of 2017's Infinite Worlds, the confidence in which the songs are delivered remains intact. This is revealed right at the start on "Full Moon in Gemini" as a wash of string laden synths are met with synthetic sounds of Tamko's West African roots. Mechanistic recreations of cowrie covered calabashes and the hollow openness of djembe drums are coupled with Tamko's high and clear vocal. Mimicking the sounds that surround her, Tamko presses down and holds her vowels bringing an intoxicating fluidity to the proceedings. Lyrically, Tamko juxtaposes the vividly seared specifics of a California road trip with the impermanence of a relationship that was shared at the time. 

Thematically Vagabon primarily deals with the protection of self in a world of others. Though songs like "Flood" acknowledge a relationship, Waheed's declarations of independence are echoed in statements like "I want to leave you instead of myself." It's clear why Tamko and others look to the poet's words to be the voice they don't necessarily have. Minimalist lyrics and fragments perhaps, but ones that have clear intent. Making the experience richer though are the sounds that surround these thoughts. The heavy thump of drum machines and flighty synths that power "Water Me Down" give way to a bottom end that seemingly has no bottom. A fitting low key dance floor vibe that itself dances around relationship frustrations. The following "In a Bind" is one of the loveliest moments on the album that builds from an acoustic strum, soulfully hummed vocals, and leads to a broadly plush palette of self-supporting background harmonies.

On an album that has no weak tracks, Tamko saves the most powerful moments for the end.  "Home Soon" serves as a microcosm for the album itself. The longest track on the album also has the slightest of lyrics. Tamko creates her own poem whose words consist entirely of: "I gave it all away, I'll be home soon." Open to interpretation, but the waves of dark synths that are subsumed wave upon wave create a beautifully mournful sound that points to pathos of the phrase. The album's closer "Every Woman," excluding a reinterpretation of the opener, has Tamko taking the burden of the fight for equality on her shoulders. A song that had to be reworded, but incisively so as to be inclusive versus inwardly focused. Over a gentle strum, she both acknowledges that "all the women I meet are tired" but also "not afraid of the war we brought on." Like the entirety of the album, rights of self and gender are declared as fact, not just an ideal, but with a level of maturation both emotionally and musically that make it feel as if Tamko's been at this for decades. 

No doubt a gamble to make a wholesale change in your sound after an acclaimed debut, Tamko delivers a confidently mature album with the sonics to match. Many artists that have a successful debut and then move away from that sound find themselves facing recoil from their fanbase or just simply mucking things up. Tamko has achieved the opposite outcome by separating herself from a crowded pack of indie rockers. She's created a colorful palette of synths and vocals that are as organic as the traditional instruments that inspired them. Her approach should appeal to those that already know her and entice a slew of new fans as well. As with many challenges we face in life there is usually a silver lining. In Vagabon's case, arriving towards the end of the year's release calendar will only serve to allow the album to stand out all the more. (  

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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