Distancing #3: Infinite Worlds


It’s raining. With thunder and everything. This is only the third time it’s rained since we’ve been sheltering in place; the second was a brief sun shower last week, and the first was the day I want to talk about. It was a few weeks ago, maybe more—I could look it up but I won’t—and I was out in search of soy sausages. I don’t think there’s any way to continue this story without sounding like the precise kind of bourgeois I actually am, so I’ll just keep going. The organic shop down the street was out, so I went to a second one, just past the post office. There are others I could have chosen instead; organic shops are slowly taking over the neighborhood, which I have the luxury of rolling my eyes at because it’s always Kristina who visits them to buy our fake meat. Except on this day. I was going to try Mom’s lentil soup recipe for the first time; it would probably be going too far to call it a special-occasion soup, except insofar as maybe all homemade soups are special, but in any case I remember it as a recurring but not totally routine part of my childhood, and I was approaching making it myself for the first time with a certain amount of ceremony. I don’t cook much, is the other thing.

As I said, the first shop had no soy sausages, just real ones, and it didn’t have any particular distancing guidelines in place. The second was observing a strict one-in-one-out policy, with a mandatory hand-sanitizer spritz at the door from a serious-looking young woman, so there was a short line out front. It wasn’t raining, barely even drizzling, but there was still rain in the air, I noticed on the short walk to this second place, and as I waited in line I poked my nose out from behind my hipster-bandit scarf-mask and inhaled for a while, exhaled, inhaled again. It was intoxicating, fresh and damp and humid and alive. I don’t go outside enough, even given the limited current allowances for exercise or medical visits or the purchase of such incontrovertible necessities as soy sausages. I keep windows open and stare into the street a lot, but days go by and I realize I’ve forgotten to go anywhere. I’ve forgotten how much it rewards all of the senses at once to just stand under the sky.

I wasn’t listening to Infinite Worlds while any of this was happening—when I do go out these days I don’t listen to music, as though out of fear that being spotted with headphones on will increase my chances of getting stopped and asked to account for my outsideness—but I’ve been thinking about it ever since when it rains, imagining it as a dialogue between a bird and a thunderstorm. It’s so full of stately tension and lumbering fury, and at the same time so warm and intimate; Lætitia Tamko’s voice is like a chisel-tipped marker, thick and thin on demand, strutting and fretting as the moment needs, investing the heavy spaces and the light with emotion and narrative so specific that sometimes the lyrics don’t even rhyme. It’s the sound of a leaf floating gently on the air and of a beleaguered bass amp in a dank basement venue all at once, and it makes the coexistence of those things feel perfectly natural, perfectly the way of the world.

Vagabon’s second album, the self-titled one from last year, is also excellent, but you have to look harder to find the weather on it. “Where her previous songs boomed and crashed,” Hua Hsu wrote when it came out, “her new songs wobble and glow.” (This column, by the way, owes a great existential debt to Hua’s love letter to Desert Island Discs.) Vagabon is an album for rooms, a smart lamp whose operating system learned everything it needed to know about humans by listening to a Postal Service Pandora station for two hundred hours; even at its most cloistered, Infinite Worlds is an outside album, a window open onto the expansiveness of the universe. I’ve mapped it to other places before—SE 84th in Portland, Edgewood in New Haven, Dover on the Oakland-Berkeley border, blustery mornings all of them—but I suspect that day here a few weeks ago, that loop of water and air and birdsong, is where it lives now. The soup was pretty good, by the way. The soup is in no way a metaphor for the album, nor vice versa, it was just also good.

— Daniel Levin Becker
Paris, day 41


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