THERE have been some hefty tunes…
PHOTO CREDIT: Philip Cosores
flowing this year, but I do think that Water Me Down by Vagabon is among the very best! It is a gorgeous, spellbinding song from an artist who is growing and producing her finest work. I shall talk about her debut album and the transition to her upcoming eponymous record. Laetitia Tamko was born in Yaoundé, Cameron, but is based in New York. She made that move at the age of thirteen so that her mother could attend law school. Tamko attended the City College of New York and graduated from the Grove School of Engineering in 2015. It is amazing to see how Tamko transitioned from her childhood in Cameroon to the bustling New York. One can imagine there are few similarities to be found; maybe there is an energy and electricity in the air that made that switch fairly stress-free. It was inevitable the ambitious and curious Tamko would be drawn to the sounds and sights of New York. She was given her first acoustic guitar, a Fender, at the age of seventeen. By 2014, Vagabon was uploading videos to Bandcamp, and we had this intriguing moniker. It is not only the guitar that Vagabon bonded with: drums, keyboards and synths can be found across her 2017 debut, Infinite Worlds. I mist admit…I didn’t discover that album until this year; I had only just discovered Vagabon and was blown away by the music!
Although there are not a huge number of reviews online concerning Infinite Worlds, it did receive hugely positive feedback from critics. The album is rich with personality, depth and wonderful moments. In this review, AllMusic share their thoughts:
“The first sound heard on Vagabon's debut album Infinite Worlds is Laetitia Tamko's voice. Equal parts smoky croon and swooping shout, her vocals hook listeners right away and don't let go until the final notes of the album trail away. In between the opening indie rock-heavy "The Embers," which features grinding guitars and the kind of early-'90s dynamics that would make Tsunami proud, and the last song, "Alive and Well," a haunted indie folk ballad, Tamko takes on a wide range of styles and sounds. From electro folk ("Fear & Force"), surging punk pop ("Minneapolis"), and strangled post-punk ("100 Years") to waltzing indie pop ("Cleaning House") and drifting ambient electronic pop ("Mal á L'aise"), she pretty much gets everything she tries right; matching her intoxicating vocals with strong melodies and simple, but very sturdy, songs. Tamko makes most of the music on the album herself, playing guitar, drums, and keys with enthusiasm and skill. The few ringers who help out don't do much to sully the home-cooked feel of the album or make it sound any less intimate. Infinite Worlds is an inward-looking album, perfect for soundtracking quiet evenings spent pondering life choices and wondering what it all means. Tamko sounds like she's done plenty of each and that comes through clearly in her vocals, the expansive nature of her melodies, and the overall restless and questing spirit of the album. It's a very promising debut that definitely positions Vagabon as one to watch in the future”.
I would urge people to check out Vagabon’s debut, because it is a stunning work from an artist who had already found her voice and feet in 2017. When I heard news there was a sophomore album coming from Vagabon, I was very excited. Although Vagabon is almost here, there was some change and shift. The title has not always been Vagabon. As this Pitchfork article explains, Vagabon was going to call the album All the Women in Me:
“Vagabon is changing the title of her sophomore album. The record, previously known as All the Women in Me, is now called Vagabon. The LP is also getting a new release date. It was previously set to come out September 27, and will now arrive October 18 via Nonesuch. Below, check out the new cover art for Vagabon along with the updated tracklist.
“My original album title and two lyrics were inspired by and referenced poetry by a writer I greatly admire, Nayyirah Waheed,” Vagabon said in a statement. “When I learned that she preferred I not quote her words, I made changes out of respect for her wishes”.
Even though the title has changed from something that suggests a lot of different personality sides to something more linear and focused, perhaps, Vagabon is, obviously, a personal and important album. I cannot wait for it to arrive on 18th October. It is going to another one of these albums that challenges for the ‘best album of the year’ title. It has been such a wonderful, diverse year for music, and I do think Vagabon is just what we need right now! I love the soulfulness of her voice and how engrossing her songs are. One is entranced by the power of the vocal and the sumptuousness of the music. Each track has its own skin and flavour; each is very fulsome and nuanced that you are compelled to come back time and time again. I know there will be a lot of love put out there for Vagabon – let’s hope there are a few more reviews out in the world! The songwriter has been conducting some interviews recently. When speaking with Uproxx, she was asked about the adaption period from her debut to her upcoming release:
“Walk me through the process after touring behind Infinite Worlds and how you started working on the songs for this self-titled record.
I had been on tour for two years behind Infinite Worlds, which is a long time. My life was planned out and I was just going, going, going. I wasn’t really think about doing another album, because I didn’t have a deal that forced me to do one, and I didn’t have that history as a musician to think about when you start doing another album. I was kind of beginner’s mind for the whole thing.
I had written little things here and there, but once tour started dying down I realized I really had to get serious, because to keep touring you need to keep making albums. Tegan And Sara asked me to write a song for their album, and it kind of put me in this mindset of writing again. I wanted to do a good job for them, so I wrote a song I felt really good about, and it kind of broke me open. I was almost thinking, if I tried to write songs again, it would all go away. You know, you’re only good as your last thing, and people were saying this album was good, so I wanted to stay on it.
But once I sat down and wrote something it was like okay, I know how to do this. I kind of got in my head that I had gotten lucky, or that I’d won some sort of lottery, or gotten into this position just by chance. Even though I don’t believe that. So for this one, I just wanted to make something that I was impressed by. I wanted to showcase the timestamp this time of my artist victory, and Infinite Worlds was timestamping another time. I just want to timestamp all the growth I go through in making music. And it’s still so early.
“Water Me Down” is another one of my favorite songs on this new album, because of the struggle in the lyrics versus the happiness of the melody. I wanted to hear about writing that one, and working with that contrast.
I’m glad you picked up on that! It’s the comfort of knowing I can deal with it. Like, when something really bad is happening, even as it’s happening, I don’t feel victimized. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can move past being the victim or the survivor. And I still feel so tiny in those hard moments, that’s why the lyrics are introspective and looking inward.
But it was an obvious moment where I was like ‘Aha, I don’t have to be stuck in this. It doesn’t have to be you did something to me.’ Through all the processing and healing I’ve done, I wanted to put that work into the music. So the song feels triumphant, that you can feel happy that something is ending. There’s never been a time in my life where I didn’t feel like one bad thing was a threat to my whole life.
I do love the fact Vagabon is writing music in a positive headspace. She is a strong woman who has seen challenges and hardships; she is writing songs that promote strength against the tide; resilience and wisdom when many others might retreat and submit. Such is her force and spirit, one is lifted by her heart and power. At a time when a lot of artists are quite angry and producing music that has cynicism and an air of defeat, Vagabon helps get the blood running and the smiles forming.
Sure, there are some dark and tough experiences assessed on Vagabon, yet there is that determination to come through the other side and not let anyone take her down. I shall end things in a minute bit but, whilst reading some interviews she has recently provided, I was struck by her upbringing and how important was early on. It seems like something primal and essential seduced Laetitia Tamko. In this feature with Pitchfork, we learn more about the young artist’s start and musical passion:
“Like many immigrant households, Tamko’s was fastidious and pragmatic. “My parents always told me, ‘You can love music all you want, but always have a Plan B,’” she recalls. Her fallback ended up being engineering school, for the uncomplicated reason that it required fewer years in the classroom than a medical or law degree. It wasn’t an obvious fit—Tamko isn’t naturally great with numbers, and she sometimes got 50s on her math tests in high school. Through sheer will and self-discipline, she muscled her way to graduation from her program at Manhattan’s City College of New York, and into a job as a computer engineer. Tamko doesn’t imagine ever returning to her former profession—she wants to make records for the rest of her life—but the rigor of her experiences in hard science has informed her practice as a musician. “I’m used to being tortured to be good at something,” she tells me, before clarifying, “I don’t want to romanticize being tortured.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Jane Bruce
Tamko’s success is clearly owed to her talent, drive, and stamina, but she is right that her story stands out for its sheer improbability. As a teenager, her exposure to music came mostly from the radio and MTV, where she discovered the Avril Lavigne-era pop-rocker Fefe Dobson, who she recalls as the only guitar-playing brown girl to get much air time. She picked up a starter Fender around age 17, but put it back down for an extended period when she got busy with school. A guy in her engineering program was a guitarist who talked incessantly about his band, and the idea of people she knew playing music intrigued her. She eventually started sneaking her own instrument into the jazz practice rooms on campus.
Home, and being separated from it, comes up a lot on Vagabon. Its lyrics seem to point to relationships stretched thin by distance, but when asked if she was missing anyone in particular while she was out touring Infinite Worlds, Tamko demurs. She acknowledges that much of her new material came from a feeling of rootlessness, but says that “very few songs are about a person; it’s more just about a feeling of not being in place.” And, to be fair, this is hardly a new concept for Tamko—just look at her chosen stage name”.
There are a few tour dates ahead for Vagabon and, if you can go and see her, make sure you do! She is a wonderful live performer and artist who is filling hearts and dropping jaws around the world. I cannot wait to see what the next few years hold but, right now, grab Vagabon on pre-release and experience a truly sensational album. I cannot wait to see what the finished album sounds like but, knowing Vagabon’s music, it is going to be immense! Make sure you follow the wonderful Vagabon and step into her…
BEAUTIFUL world of music.