Vagabon's Infinite Worlds is read in the scuzz school of indie rock – DIY, here's-one-I-made-earlier impudence, with a cultivated affection for minimalism – but is imperatively informed by Laetitia Tamko's experience as a black woman, and as a first-generation immigrant from Cameroon. While she successfully taps into 2017's thirst for alt-indie sounds, it's her sophisticated storytelling which spoons you, the eloquence with which her basic fables unfurl into infinite worlds of emotional complexity.
Take 'The Embers', the lead single and opening salvo; an initially retiring quaver, cuddled by wrinkled drones, erupts into a soaring riff and steadfast avowal of self-assurance. Its winsome dare to “run and tell everybody that Laetitia is a small fish,” while she sways in a sea of sharks is aural dopamine. The alchemic interplay of loud/quiet is Infinite Worlds’ ostensible benchmark, where shuddering vocals fueled by guitars that indubitably rock allow space for scant meditations, spaces often filled by trimmings of invention, whether that’s the chilled R&B languor of ‘Fear and Force’, the leisurely synth melodies of ‘Mal à L’aise’, or the forlorn singer-songwriter haze of ‘Cleaning House’ and ‘Alive and A Well’.
The diaspora of ideas and trepidations are composite. In a confined burst, ‘100 Years’ parallels and perhaps correlates suburban malaise with the social evolutions of the last century. ‘Fear and Force’ marks the alienation of place – how somewhere can be both exhilarating and comfortable, but also profoundly lonely – and the fluidity of home; New York, Vermont, and Cameroon are all Tamko’s vestiges of home, and yet none are. The urgent ‘Cold Apartment’ perforates a basic love song with familiar and catching details, painting the convolutions of a realised relationship. Perhaps most interestingly, ‘Mal à L’aise’ is a modified pop recess, with Tamko singing airily in her native French.
Such an abrupt mechanical shift doesn’t jar, but amplifies the force of her presence. Repetitive self-descriptions of being “small” and “quiet” and “scared” are underscored by the dextrous brush strokes which peel back her vulnerability and poise, her concerns and passions; invoking the contention that magnitude – whether physically or in personality – is entirely inconsequential when paired with the densities of character.
She contains multitudes, and all the divergent fragments which constitute her being cannot be individually side-lined, or shelved to contrive the concord of a singular album theme. If it’s about anything, Infinite Worlds is about the perpetuity of identity. There’s more to all of us than we’ll ever appreciate. For introducing itself with “I feel so small,” its ideas are shyly colossal and endearingly affirming. Infinite Worlds is accomplished and stirring, but it’s also sprinkled with surprise intimacies, distinguishing it as one of the most remarkable and challenging releases so far this year.