Infinite Worlds (Father/Daughter Records)
Last month, the now-annual “is rock music dead?” debate cropped up once again, and once again, the accusatory society of jaded music journalists were immediately refuted by the uproarious, flourishing sector of the music world that they perpetually, and baselessly, cease to acknowledge. Tyler Andere of the music website Portals poignantly tweeted a few weeks back, “lol indie rock is dead . . . how are you going to cancel an entire genre of music without giving people of color a fair shot?”
That pretty much nails it. The historically white genre had one of its best years in almost a decade last year, with some of best rock records of 2016 coming from artists like Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, Crying and Mannequin Pussy–all of which contain at least one person of color. To take the underlying prejudice even further, women and LGBTQ artists (Angel Olsen, PWR BTTM, Lucy Dacus, Jay Som, Girlpool, Julien Baker, just to name a select few) are finally receiving the spotlight for making some of the most innovative indie music today–and now you’re going to declare the whole thing dead?
Unfortunately, minorities have to swim through a sea of white (mostly male) in order to play indie rock, and Laetitia Tamko, the force behind Vagabon who happens to be a woman of color, movingly expresses that vulnerability, intentionally or not, on the very first song of her auspicious debut LP Infinite Worlds. “Run and tell everybody that Laetitia is a small fish/you’re a shark that hates everything/you’re a shark that eats every fish,” she belts during the track’s fervent climax. It’s a swaying rock number, beginning rather soft and unassumingly, then picking up momentum as pummeling drums and banged-out riffs begin piling up beneath Tamko’s impassioned vocal delivery.
However, the record quickly diverts into a series of different styles going forward: the crisp electronic claps and bumps of “Fear & Force,” the punky “Minneapolis,” and the five-minute chillwavey “Mal à L’aise” that features breathy, incoherent muttering looped in succession with a pitch-shifted, trippy repetition of the line “you know my kind of high”–a surprisingly satisfying intermission from the loud/soft rock dynamic of the rest of the album.
Although, the most powerful tracks hold down the backend and effectively leave the listener with a lot to be desired, as the record’s eight songs only amount to 28 minutes and therefore demand to be replayed. “Cold Apartment” consists of a tense swell that eventually pops into driving instrumentation and momentous “ooo-ah”’s that ascend above the mix, making it the most musically interesting. Closer “Alive and A Well” uses the crushing metaphor of a water well running dry, as Tamko advises people to “take what you need and go/don’t look back and see if the well is producing anymore water.” Eventually she confesses, “I don’t have it in me to give everyone everything.”
Although minorities such as Tamko are severely underrepresented within the indie rock idiom, it would be tokenizing, counter-productive, and wholly unfair to herald Infinite Worlds solely because of the songwriter’s identity. Instead, this record should be praised for its unique compositional approach that’s bravely non-committal toward a single style, the stellar vocal and percussion performances, and Vagabon’s lyrics that are as candid as they are tactful. Ignoring a record like this would be an injustice to the bright future of indie rock.