Infinite Worlds is a brave step out for Vagabon

Infinite WorldsLætitia Tamko is painfully aware of the chasm that can stretch between forefinger and thumb. Adolescence is the perfect metaphor for Infinite Worlds: no other stage in life has the power to make the minor details – sexual experience, acceptance from your peers, early career paths – seem like they might actually matter ten years from now.  Of the eight songs that feature on Vagabon’s debut album, several have undergone growing pains of their own. “The Embers” was born a smaller, gentler affair called “Sharks,” while “Fear & Force” grew out of “Vermont II,” a song that now operates as a blushing snapshot of the record at large. “I’ve been hiding in the smallest place,” Tamko sings. She is stepping out.

Born and raised in Cameroon before relocating to New York City, she finally found a home of sorts in the DIY scene at Brooklyn's Silent Barn, thrashing out ramshackle, heartfelt indie-punk alongside the likes of Frankie Cosmos. That ethos is powerfully evinced here by “Minneapolis,” a disarmingly spiky number that recalls the sweet and sour approach of upstate neighbours Diet Cig, even Mitski’s grunge moments. It’s an uncompromisingly NY number, at any rate, and though it feels like it could tip the album into mayhem for the remainder, the storm soon passes. “Mal à l'aise” follows after, a woozy, Francophone detour that breaks up the angst with a few softly spoken words. For a little while, Vagabon’s fractious world seems at peace.

It doesn’t last long.  More or less everything else on Infinite Worlds conforms to the quiet-loud dynamic that has, for decades now, allowed artists to play with listener’s expectations, offering coy and brash in the same package. It works well for Tamko whose voice breaks sweetly at intervals, recalling Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan; on the 90s angst of “Cold Apartment,” there’s even a whiff of The Cranberries. But it’s when she presents herself at her most vulnerable, as on tracks like “Cleaning House,” that the real spirit of this project shines through. “You only got to say these words because we enabled it,” she seethes. “You only got to speak this way because we all stood for it.” It’s not entirely clear where the vitriol is aimed, but in light of recent challenges to democratic action across America – and especially for a young, black, female immigrant like Tamko – it feels vital.

At eight tracks spanning less than half an hour, the album feels uncomfortably frail upon first listen, a few artistic ribs jutting out where fully fleshed-out concepts should cover. But over time, an impression forms that it could take no other shape; for an LP that devotes so much energy to exploring the dynamics between brazen shyness and tentative confidence, it feels appropriate that it doesn’t hang around too long. By the time we find “Alive and A Well” alone at the end of the album, the bluster has passed, and we are confronted with a few naked truths. “I would change my hair. I’d grow taller,” she quietly sings. “I don’t have it in me to deal with everyone.” None of us do Lætitia. For its brief tenure, Infinite Worlds reminds us that it's okay to feel that way.

Release: 24th February 2017, Father/Daughter Records

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