“I didn't feel like being introspective,” says Laetitia Tamko of her playful and adventurous new album Sorry I Haven’t Called. “I just wanted to have fun.” As Vagabon, Tamko is no stranger to reinvention. Following her intimate 2017 debut Infinite Worlds, the New York artist favored expansive and evocative electronic textures in her breakthrough 2019 self-titled follow-up. But her latest LP, which is out September 15 via Nonesuch, feels like a wholly new era for Tamko, one that’s transformational and uncompromising. Across 12 vibrant tracks she wrote and produced primarily in Germany, she channels dance music and effervescent pop through her own confident sensibilities. These conservational songs are alive and unselfconscious, a document of an artist fully embracing her vision and reclaiming her joy.
The story of Sorry I Haven’t Called started in grief after her best friend died in 2021. This devastating and unexpected loss unmoored Tamko but also gave her a newfound clarity. “The things that I thought I cared about, I no longer cared about,” she says. “I had a realization that I need to make sure to feel everything that comes my way.” She decided to sell her things and move to a small lakeside village a few hours north of Hamburg in northern Germany to process everything. “There's no linear path to grief, and everyone handles it differently, but uprooting my life just felt like exactly what I had to do, ” says Tamko. “I needed a place to think and go through my discomfort privately but to also explore the newness and urgency I was feeling in my life.” In the village, her phone didn’t work and there were no close grocery stores or restaurants, so she spent her time alone working on music.
Despite the palpable absence in her life, her new songs were her most disarming and ebullient yet. The first one she wrote was “Carpenter,” a mesmerizing track anchored by a tangible bass groove, where she sings, “I wasn’t ready to move on out / but I'm more ready now.” It’s a fully-realized track and feels like the culmination of her catalog so far. “A lot of the music that I was making there had nothing to do with my grief at all,” says Tamko. “Once I gave myself permission to make a record that's full of life and energy, I realized that’s the point of this album. In the midst of going through all of these tough things, it became a record because of the vitality that these songs had.” For Tamko, there’s power in pursuing happiness.
While writing in Germany, Tamko nurtured her love for dance music and let it seep into her new songs. “The only things that were giving me access to a feeling were dance music and going to a rave in an extremely dark club where if I wanted to cry, I could do it and be around other people,” she says. Songs like “You Know How” boast a propulsive house arrangement while “Do Your Worst” combines dancefloor euphoria, breakneck-paced jungle beats, and a DJ’s sense of pacing through lucid storytelling. She sings on one of the LP’s most memorable choruses, “You turn me into someone I don’t fuck with / I don’t like myself when I’m with you / frequency so low when you are present / take me to a place where I feel high.”
Tamko’s lyrics on Sorry I Haven’t Called are uniformly playful and inviting. The first words she sings on the album are, “Can I talk my shit? / I got way too high for this.” It’s a statement of purpose for the rest of the album that this is an unapologetic artist. “This whole record is how I talk to my friends and how to talk to my lovers,” says Tamko. “I think honesty and conversational songwriting can become poetry. There’s beauty in plainly speaking without metaphors and without flowery imagery.” Even on some of the more understated songs like the single “Passing Me By,” Tamko’s directness makes for profound emotional resonance when she sings lines like “We found ourselves taking different paths / I see you out and I miss your laugh.”
After a few months in Germany that included marathon writing sessions and a whirlwind romance, Tamko decided to stay with friends in Los Angeles and finish her record. With new tracks she wrote in California like the contemplative “Autobahn” and the lighthearted “Made Out With Your Best Friend,” she enlisted co-producer Rostam to help her unify her vision. Take “Lexicon,” the most jubilant pop track on the LP that was partially inspired by Mariah Carey, which Tamko credits Rostam with taking over the finish line. “I wrote the song, the verses, the chorus, all of the bridge, and all of that, but I couldn't find a place for it on the record sonically,” she says. “When I revisited the album with Rostam in LA, he said ‘just give me a minute with it’ and he just got it.”
Sorry I Haven’t Called is a warm and resilient album about embracing the ecstatic moments wherever you can by knowing how you love and how you mourn. It’s an LP born of both communal dancefloor revelations and the clarifying peace from solitude, an emotional rebirth as well as an artistic one. “This record feels like what I've been working towards,” says Tamko. “When I think of this album, I think of playfulness. It's completely euphoric. It's because things were dark that this record is so full of life and energy. It’s a reaction to what I was experiencing at the time, not a document of it.”