Vagabon – Infinite Worlds

I had heard enough good things about Vagabon to be sure to arrive in time for her opening set at the EARL last month, on Allison Crutchfield’s bill. Yet she still delivered a pleasant surprise – no small feat in this day and age. Playing as a trio, Laetitia Tamko and her crew deftly straddled a line between DIY and more grandiose pursuits. I came away thinking of a cross between Sinead O’Connor (owing mainly to Tamko’s soaring voice) and Hop Along’s jagged indie rock.

On record the effect is similar, with some added twists and a few more reference points. Infinite Worlds covers a lot of ground in a scant 28 minutes. Tamko does the loud-quiet-loud thing quite well, although in her case I don’t get the sense it’s a device for dramatic effect. She seems to enjoy both ends of the spectrum equally – the burner “Minneapolis,” the gentle, introspective “Fear & Force” – but isn’t content to quarantine either to separate corners.

Still, it’s Tamko’s raw guitar playing and decision to back them with crashing drums that leaves the strongest impression – as on the captivating waltz-tempoed opener “The Embers.” Vagabon’s two sides mesh best on the stunning “Cold Apartment,” which builds to a cathartic crescendo and also happens to be the most cleanly produced of these eight tracks. Her blend of bold exposition and emotional fragility remind me of Torres and Frankie Cosmos, respectively – and I swear I concocted that comparison prior to learning that Vagabon traffics the same NYC scene as Cosmos.

Infinite Worlds’ biggest curveball is the bachelor pad electronica of “Mal a L’aise,” the album’s longest track (a bit too long), and one that recalls a ’90s indie hero also named Laetitia. The comparison is cemented by the track’s incidental dialogue in French, Tamko’s first language. (She immigrated to New York from Cameroon as a teenager.) While I’m hesitant to read too much into that backstory, Tamko’s compositions benefit from a freshness that may stem from not being saturated with the tried-and-true rock touchstones from a young age.

Infinite Worlds showcases a young artist worth getting excited about, one I could envision evolving in any of a multitude of dimensions. That’s part of the fun of the ride.

Infinite Worlds