Album Review: Vagabon – Sorry I Haven’t Called

Laetitia Tamko's third album sees her deal with grief on her own terms

The vibrant spectrum of Vagabon’s promise had just begun to unfold when 2020 deadheaded it with a clean swipe. Pitchfork called her self-titled second album “evolution in real time”, as her own production and songwriting explored new territory from the indie rock of her 2017 debut, Infinite Worlds. Though tracks such as ‘Water Me Down’ continued to help many find a place of calm throughout the year, Vagabon – AKA Laetitia Tamko – never got to take that new side of self-expression on tour and let it reach the full realisation it deserved.

Four years on, Tamko is ready to return to course with her third album, Sorry I Haven’t Called, released Friday 15 September via Nonesuch Records. Its name itself reads like an old friend getting back in touch after a prolonged period of silence, and in a statement on social media, the Cameroonian-American artist explains that it comes from a period of mourning. In 2021, Tamko lost her friend Eric, who bought her the music production software, Logic, when she couldn’t afford it, and was a “deeply vital” part of both her musical and personal life. A couple of months later, she left New York for the northern German countryside, and found herself writing – fulled by, but not aimed at, grief.

“I felt guilty for a while,” she says, “why was I writing my most uptempo music while in the throes of mourning? It didn’t make sense at first. I think it’s because things were dark, that this album is full of life and energy. This album is a reaction to my grief, not a document of it.”

Vagabon - Lexicon (Official Music Video)

In this light, Sorry I Haven’t Called feels like someone re-entering the routine of modern life and dating with a fresh rawness, as she continues to distill and soften some of the textures and tropes of dance music. Opener ‘Can I Talk My Shit?’ wobbles and bounces as she deals with a dizzying comedown, while later on she’s back at the party making out with the subject’s best friend – and they liked it.

Co-production from Rostam allows the album’s sound – airy, modern and bright with a bite of dry, hissing snares – to reflect Tamko’s headspace and give her a voice a closeness. But as the album’s strongest melodic moment reminds us, sometimes words don’t do vibes justice: “Our lexicon is gone / When we dance all night.”

Sorry I Haven’t Called isn’t without its sombre moments, and another of the record’s highlights is the vocal layering of tired and defeated break-up song ‘Nothing To Lose’. But ‘Lexicon’, with its gentle summer-night breeze, reflects Vagabon’s ability to push sadness or grief not entirely out of the room so that it comes back stronger, but just far away enough to deal with it when she’s ready, on her own terms.

Release date: 15 September 2023
Label: Nonesuch Records
On tour: Supporting Arlo Parks from 28 September 2023