When Laetitia Tamko released her 2017 debut as Vagabon, the Cameroon-born artist was described as a saviour of indie rock, a genre largely dominated by white performers. The accolades were as limiting as they were well-intentioned, burdening Tamko as a corrective to a sound that probably didn’t represent the sum of her ambition or ability. Whether it’s a natural evolution or a pointed refusal, her second album swaps crunching guitars for a softer, mostly synthetic setting, a sound as expansive as it is intimate.
As a producer, she favours lagoon-like spaciousness, attention to detail and unpredictable structures: Flood starts out with Tamko singing in a detached tone, building suspense that breaks with a blown-out percussive run indebted to Phil Collins. What follows is trip-hoppy murkiness that seems to endlessly turn in on itself, catching the listener in Tamko’s hall of mirrors: “Even if I run from it, I’m still in it.” She consistently narrows the focus to lure you in to her predicament: “I hoped you’d still be here,” she repeats sombrely on In a Bind, the atmospheric production conjuring the empty room.
It’s an unusual record made more beguiling by Tamko’s deep and adaptable voice. Floating on a lovely, minimal synth refrain that winks like a cloud of fireflies, Water Me Down is about disappointment. But as Tamko drives the message home, the soft four-to-the-floor beat grows starker, her voice more euphoric. Her refusal of sadness links to the more straightforward, acoustic Every Woman: “We reserve the right to be full when we’re on our own / No, I’m not alone.” This eye for social dynamics adds sharp edges to a tender record. On the blown-out Wits About You, she rejects a party that “won’t let my people in” and declares she’ll build her own institutions. She knows that entry is no guarantee of acceptance: “You know me when it serves you to tell everyone,” she sings on Please Don’t Leave the Table, her pleas for respect buoyed by a brassy pulse. Tamko changed the album’s name at the last minute from All the Women in Me to Vagabon – the implication being that her multifaceted artistry should be taken as read. It’s well-earned.