‘Infinite Worlds’ deserves infinite listens
Erin McAuliffe | Tuesday, March 7, 2017
It is a special kind of episode that can uproot all the main characters and transport them to a new world where they can’t speak.
It is a special kind of song that can take you back to the underwater episode of “BoJack Horseman” via synths, muttered French and a repeated refrain of “you know my kind of high” sampled from iLoveMakonnen collaborator Eric Littman.
It is a special kind of album that can transport you so poignantly into this and seven other unique worlds, immersing you in emotion.
Laetitia Tamko’s debut album is fittingly titled “Infinite Worlds.” The record is a journey through Tamko’s worlds: past, present and dreamt, and she embodies her moniker, Vagabon, as she drifts ethereally through them all. Tamko creates eternity out of scenes, settings out of rushed flashbacks and infinity from the infinitesimal.
The first track on the album, “The Embers,” is a great example of those worlds as lyrics shift from vulnerability felt on public transit to an underwater scene of the same mentality in seven lines. In fact, the whole track consists of seven unique lines — a fact that required an attentive relisten to confirm. Tamko, like “BoJack Horseman,” doesn’t need many words to explore and share her worlds. Bubbling basslines and drums that rush around a circuitous melody — like the chase between a small fish and shark described in the lyrics — expand the world beyond words.
Perhaps the reason Vagabon is so adept at transporting us to new worlds is that she has moved around the world and, as happens when others are unfamiliar with your background, has had to reflect on and describe her childhood to others.
Tamko grew up in Cameroon and moved to New York as a teenager. She released an EP on Bandcamp in 2014, but wasn’t set on pursuing music as anything more than a hobby until after college in 2015. Tamko found herself a part of the DIY scene in New York surrounded by the Epoch Collective, whose member Greta Cline (Frankie Cosmos) provides backing vocals on track “Fear & Force.” Vagabon has since opened for Frankie Cosmos and Sadie Dupuis (Sad13).
“Infinite Worlds” has lyrics that focus on scenes and provide space for us to imagine the story. In this way Tamko’s work differs from Kline’s detail-packed vignettes; Tamko is not looking for distinct memories but rather the space they leave and what it means. She quotes unnamed acquaintances and paints settings with wide brushstrokes. “I’m sorry I lost your cat / I was just so mad,” she sings on “The Embers” — not providing context but allowing us to conjure up our own.
“Fear & Force” is grounded in a small cabin in Vermont, while the instrumentals rustle like foliage, claps echo like thunder and Kline’s backing vocals echo Tamko in a way that evokes muttered thoughts tossed into the wilderness and returned off distant caves. Contrast that scene to the urban “Minneapolis,” cloaked in angst and nostalgia: Aggressive guitar riffs accompany Tamko’s return to a childhood home. “I need to stay but it won’t be long,” she sings, foreshadowing a scene many seniors are currently attempting to avoid.
“Infinite Worlds” addresses identity (“My standing there threatens your standing too / No longer yearn to be gentle, pure, sweet, not intimidating yet sure”), heritage (“One hundred years ago, we walked through the aqueduct to find your old home”) and a vagabond’s memories (“Making a move but it’s not my own”) alongside the DIY scene’s usual themes of nostalgia, heartbreak and place. She does so fluidly and in a way that draws the listener into her world through disjointed insights, instead of holding them at a distance through perfected descriptors.
Tamko sings and plays guitar, synths, keyboard and drums on the record — correlating her own sound with her own mood: Dark riffs spin into heartbreak on “Cold Apartment” and guitar plucks swell alongside self-proclamations on “Cleaning House.”
During midterms week we all dream about leaving this mundane, perma-cloud world for the spontaneity and sun of spring break. Put “Infinite Worlds” on while you walk around campus to be transported somewhere new before Friday rolls around.