Everybody is always reinventing. It’s partly our fault, as writers and critics. Reinvention is chum in the churning waters of the perpetual album cycle. It gives writers, and to a lesser extent fans, something to latch onto. If you only have been vaguely paying attention to songwriter Laetitia Tamko (aka Vagabon), you may hear grand, drastic reinvention in her newest record, Sorry I Haven’t Called, which is where the very idea of reinvention proves misleading. Sure, Tamko has largely dispensed with the DIY indie rock of her Bandcamp days in favor of thudding dance-floor bangers and thoughtful pop, but this is far from contrivance. When we were first introduced to Vagabon over six years ago on her excellent debut record Infinite Worlds, she began with a simple, powerful admission. “I feel so small,” opens “The Embers”, a slow burn of relatable vulnerability. Her new album opens up with a different sort of declaration; “Can I talk my shit?” Sorry I Haven’t Called answers that question in the affirmative with 12 of the best songs Vagabon has ever made, songs of swaggering confidence and revelation, but never reinvention. This might be a new Vagabon, but it was the one she was always meant to become.
Tamko has said that her goal was to bring a vitality and energy to Sorry I Haven’t Called that might not have been as close to the surface on her other work. If this is the aim, you can do far worse than bring in Rostam Batmanglij as a co-producer. Former songwriter and founding member Vampire Weekend, Rostam has since become just the kind of producer you bring in when looking to expand your sound from “bedroom” pop to proper, though still left-of-center, pop, lending his hand to the likes of Samia, Clairo, and HAIM. “Lexicon,” with its twitchy, shifting percussion and breakneck changes, is a perfect example of the pure vigor he can bring to a song, taking the bones of what Vagabon has always been about and fleshing them out significantly. What makes Tamko such an exciting songwriter, though, is the way she is able to extend this further and just how well it fits into the palette she started experimenting with on a song like “Water Me Down,” the highpoint of 2019’s Vagabon. This is the biggest Vagabon has ever sounded but in many ways is an amplification of what she has always done well.
For Tamko, this record largely serves as an exercise in juxtaposition. Sorry I Haven’t Called is massive, vibrant, and, more often than not, downright sexy, but there is a heavy grief at the center of it all, the loss of her best friend coming to define this moment in her life. But rather than toil in the shadows of this loss, Tamko decided to close her eyes, ramp up a bass heavy beat, and lose herself in sweaty, late nights of Sorry I Haven’t Called. “Do Your Worst,” she declares on a song which might as well be a middle finger to the universe. “You turn me into someone i don’t fuck with…frequency so low when you are present,” she sings among a furious but subtle beat, the inherent momentum carrying the sentiment to a boiling point. This willingness to talk her shit separates this record from her previous work, but I really cannot imagine any level of stasis going forward. “I want so much more than I have ever asked for before,” sings Tamko on “Nothing To Lose,” and if this record is any indication, she’ll find a way to get whatever she wants.
Buy this album: