Laetitia Tamko opens her latest album as Vagabon, Sorry I Haven’t Called, as if you’re leaving a party right alongside her, finally free to debrief without looking over your shoulders. “Can I talk my shit?” the Cameroon-born, New York-based musician asks in her lilting falsetto, then without waiting for an answer, confesses: “I got way too high for this.” The song is whimsical and vibrant, her conversational words floating over the wistful ahs of an Auto-Tuned choir and bouncy drums. It feels like a reminder that being vulnerable doesn’t have to be scary: It can feel cheeky, bold, and even fun.
Tamko emerged from the Brooklyn DIY scene and became part of the new indie-rock vanguard after the release of her debut album, 2017’s Infinite Worlds, a collection of scrappy guitar anthems that felt pensive and ferocious in equal measure. She deviated from that sound on her second album, experimenting with slower, reverb-drowned R&B and indie pop. On Sorry I Haven’t Called, which was co-produced by Rostam, Tamko changes shape once more, resulting in bright and dewy electro-pop songs with more rhythmic dimension. She wrote the album while processing the death of her close friend and collaborator Eric Littmann, expecting to create somber ballads “But when I sat down to write,” she recalled, “I found that I headed more towards catharsis, more towards euphoria, more towards joy.”
Honesty, to oneself and to others, is a central theme throughout Sorry I Haven’t Called. On several songs, Tamko measures the growing distance between people, slipping into reveries about the conversations they might have once had: “We find ourselves taking different paths/I see you out and I miss your laugh,” she sings on the wistful ballad “Passing Me By.” On standout “Do Your Worst,” a slice of breakbeat-pop with flute-like trills, Tamko grieves an unhealthy relationship: “You turn me into someone I don’t fuck with/I don’t like myself when I’m with you.” Her subjects can be complicated, but her songs are breezy, inviting the listener to sing along.
Sorry I Haven’t Called illustrates a shift in Tamko’s storytelling: She sidesteps diffuse, open-ended imagery for blunt, informal observations. As a writer, Tamko refuses pity, always reflecting on her own role in a dynamic, or searching for a silver lining. This mentality is clearest during the buoyant, Afrobeats-influenced “Carpenter.” “I wasn’t ready to hear you out,” she sings over euphoric shakers and guitar, “but I’m more ready now.” You get the sense of a songwriter shedding her skin, accepting that these inevitable changes will allow her to learn new lessons. On Sorry I Haven’t Called, she depicts the process of growing up with an unflinching heart.
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