Sorry I Haven’t Called
ABOVE THE CURRENT
Reinvention is a time-honored practice for any musician. As contexts shift, so do the artists themselves—and so why not their sound, too? Such was the case for Lætitia Tamko, whose work under the name Vagabon has since morphed from the alternatingly delicate and fiery indie rock of 2017’s Infinite Worlds, to the electronic elements that dotted her fragilities on 2019’s self-titled record. Change had followed her frequently enough that it’s become a talking point in interviews, with Tamko recently sharing that she “became a full-time musician when I wasn’t expecting to; I was discovering my voice still.”
Tamko’s latest exploration of her own voice was spurred by a number of factors in the time since her last album—most heavily, grieving the loss of her best friend. As a result, Sorry I Haven’t Called becomes a purging, a release of the emotional strain of the past four years using the sounds Tamko found in her escapes to nightclubs to cope. With her own production bolstered by Rostam Batmanglij, her always intimate and vulnerable songwriting permits a record that carries those simultaneous emotions—mournfulness and ecstasy, excess and ennui—as loudly as a Vagabon album can, by its current definition.
There’s a bracing confrontationalism to Tamko’s lyrics that wasn’t present before, evident as early as the title of the album’s opening track: “Can I Talk My Shit?” The song is one of Vagabon’s stronger pivots, brandishing her evocative lilt against an emotional density in contemporary pop reminiscent of Caroline Polachek, Tamko’s voice holding a tangible frailty as she cries out, “I don’t think I’m escaping.” Late-album standout “Do Your Worst” makes the most out of similarly maximalist territory, with Tamko’s sing-song kiss-off “You turned me into someone I don’t fuck with” seething against a flurrying backbeat, like exorcising a falling out through a hailstorm DDR session.
The most consistently engaging parts of Sorry I Haven’t Called, though, fall in line with Vagabon’s biggest skills as an evocative songwriter. Mid-record cut “Autobahn” makes a strong case for Tamko’s strengths lying in stark emotions, circling only a spare electronic organ melody that accompanies her voice with such focus that its transition into a softly bubbling chorus makes the entire track feel like it’s undergoing a seismic shift. With a rattling ache, she sings, “I understand you / When you call on me / And you stare through me / And you know where I stand,” cycling through a miasma of conflicted feelings without ever rising above a simmer. Even within an album that goes bigger than Vagabon has ever gone before, the subtleties of “Autobahn” stand above the flashiest beats.
It’s moments like this that present Sorry I Haven’t Called with its most fascinating duality—it’s an assured left turn in Vagabon’s catalog, but excels primarily where it hones and refines and finds fresh insight along a path she’s trod to great success before. Its newness is striking on first listen, but ultimately one that leaves me wondering where this adventurous abandon may take her creative voice next. Yet that’s the beauty of Vagabon’s work: Every album is a snapshot of the artist in time, and she’s never finished developing what her music can be.