Just two and a half years ago, Laetitia Tamko debuted under the name Vagabon with her album Infinite Worlds, which received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews. Labeled as a DIY indie rock artist, Tamko stands out in her ability to create a lasting impression on a wide audience, despite being in a genre that isn’t immensely popular. Her story as an artist is also incredibly compelling, as her integration into the scene began when she moved to New York from Cameroon at 14 years old.
Tamko’s latest album Vagabon presents a completely different tone from Infinite Worlds. The self-titled album is much more heavily grounded in digital, synthesized sounds, complemented by the persistence of Tamko’s enduring tone and backed up by acoustic guitar and drums.
From the get–go, the concentrated intensity of Tamko’s soft tone pierces through in the first track, “Full Moon in Gemini.” Throughout, Tamko expertly navigates between instrumentals with varying textures. Her melodies are compelling in that they’re difficult to follow, but are still in line with the chord progressions of her instrumentals.
Much like in “Full Moon in Gemini,” songs like “Water Me Down,” and “Home Soon” consist of heavily synthesized beats, contrasting with Tamko’s fluid voice. Her style is abstract, but still communicative to the listener. In fact, the first minute of “Home Soon” is composed of just an eerie synthesizer, with Tamko’s voice blending into the melody as if they were one.
Tension throughout the song is built through high, fast paced violin strokes, as Tamko pleads and promises with the phrase, “I’ll be home soon.” The song is made up of few words, leaving the listener to wonder who she is singing for and afraid to disappoint. In “Home Soon,” Tamko gives us a glimpse into her own, dreary world.
In contrast, “In a Bind” features no synthesizers. Instead, it begins with the plucking of an acoustic guitar, setting a somber mood. Tamko regretfully sings, “You know I gave you all my time/ It was enough until you saw her eyes.” Pain pierces through her voice as she tries to reconcile with an experience she still can’t quite let go of. The song seems to be written as a therapeutic comfort to herself more than anyone else. The same guitar melody follows the piece, culminating in a powerful collection of harmonies towards the end of the song, expressing restlessness and anger.
Throughout the album, Tamko builds up a relationship of raw intimacy, in which her walls have completely been knocked down and she is unafraid to express vulnerability. Although the album is a result of Tamko's heavy heart, it reveals a journey of growth through pain.
With “Full Moon in Gemini (Monako Reprise),” Tamko ends the album in the same manner in which she opened: on a nostalgic, positive note, recounting a happy memory. In the first track, she repeats the lyrics “And I’ll stay, stay with you, in our bed, it feels so good.”
Monako, a Montréal–based indie band, takes the lead on the closing song, echoing the phrase, “And I lay, there with you, in my bed, it feels so good.” The melodies of the two songs are the same, but the second rendition is much heavier and noisier. Towards the end of the last song, Vagabon finally joins Monako, as if two sides of a love story are finally able to come together.
Tamko’s choice of a stark, bright orange album cover with a stunning self–portrait reflects her newfound boldness as an artist on her second album. Her face doesn’t express any particular emotion, except that of a mature, learned woman. Tamko's lyrics in Vagabon consist of brutal honesty, painted with carefully crafted, cold–cutting words. In “Secret Medicine,” she sings, “I know I’m upset, when I can look at you and not be oppressed.”
Even the structured progression of Vagabon’s track names tell their own story, from “Full Moon in Gemini,” to “Water Me Down,” to “Please Don’t Leave the Table,” and finally, back to “Full Moon in Gemini (Monako Reprise).” In Vagabon, we are able to admire Tamko's stunning progression as an artist experimenting with different modes of instrumentals, and as an emotionally conscious being, colored by both painful and joyful experiences.
Vagabon opens for Angel Olsen at Franklin Music Hall on Thursday, Oct. 31. More info and tickets are available at https://vagabonvagabon.com/tour