Pop Culture

Album Review: Vagabon, ‘Sorry I Haven’t Called’

On her 2019 self-titled album as Vagabon, Laetitia Tamko traded the guitar-based indie rock stylings of 2017’s Infinite Worlds for a world of rich, evocative electronica. More than a sonic departure, though, the album showcased an artist capable of expanding her sound while retaining the tender intimacy of her earlier material, an evolution that continues on her latest effort, Sorry I Haven’t Called. Following the death of her best friend in 2021, Tamko wrote and produced the majority of the record in Germany, where she reconnected with, and sought ways to channel, her love of dance music. The result is the kind of upbeat, vibrant pop record that doesn’t feel detached from grief but creates a comforting space around it, tapping into a whirlwind of emotions without letting them overwhelm. “I don’t think I’m escaping,” Tamko sings on the opening track ‘Can I Talk My Shit?’, which features backing vocals from Julie Byrne, of all people. “I’m going to a place I know.” Around the making of Sorry I Haven’t Called, that place happened to be a dark club where, if you wanted to cry, you could do it in the company of others – and loud music.

While the indie rock songwriting of Vagabon’s debut was often billed as confessional, Tamko is veering away from that description, too, making songs that are emotive and conversational without strictly documenting her personal life. In press materials, she calls the album “completely euphoric,” explaining, “It’s because things were dark that this record is so full of life and energy.” But she still favours honesty, pairing the simple, effective hooks of the record’s first half in particular with clear, direct lyricism: “Can I be honest? I’ve been in the house spinning out,” she admits early on, before opening ‘You Know How’ with the question, “Honestly, how’ve you been?” Tamko allows herself to savour small, unexpected joys rather than letting fear overshadow them, which brings an air of lightness to these songs that feels precious and uncritical. It’s a direction that feels in line with the sophomore album from Arlo Parks or Clairo’s work with Rostam Batmanglij, who co-produced Sorry I Haven’t Called with Tamko in Los Angeles. But this record is also more outwardly sensual than anything on My Soft Machine or Immunity, dipping into sultry R&B on ‘Made Out With Your Best Friend’ in a way that feels genuinely invigorating.

But while the carefree springiness of Tamko’s approach as a whole is refreshing, the album benefits more from the vulnerability and atmospheric textures that seep through its best tracks, from the confrontational ‘Do Your Worst’ to the introspective ‘Autobahn’. Though the exuberance of ‘Lexicon’ is so low-key it almost breezes by without leaving much of an impact or distinctly registering as a Vagabon song, the tracks that follow are more naturally expressive in their arrangement: Jack Mclaine’s synth and drum programming on ‘Passing Me By’ are colourfully layered, and the gentle warmth of ‘Nothing to Lose’ melts away frustration to make way for a big revelation (“I want so much more than I’ve ever asked for before”). ‘It’s a Crisis’ might have quickly sounded stale were it not for Tamko’s subtle synth flourishes and the sudden addition of a saxophone, played by Henry Solomon to haunting effect.

By the time we get to the end, what should be Sorry I Haven’t Called‘s most familiar-sounding moment becomes its most surprising. Closer ‘Anti-Fuck’ calls back to Vagabon’s debut by bringing guitars back to the fore, embracing uncertainty on a record that exudes confidence at every turn. But though not quite “completely euphoric,” you get the sense it’s informed by the energy of the rest of the record, like returning to the same place, after a shitload of change, an entirely different person. You wish the album traced more of that journey instead of hinting at it, but it creates excitement for where Tamko will be taking things next; for a record so assured and hook-focused, it feels weirdly transitional. “Am I wrong to decide the last thing I want/ Is unknown,” she sings, but if the rising wave of distortion is what that space sounds like, who wouldn’t want to stay in it a little longer?

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