Last year, Jay Som (real name Melina Duterte) toured with Japanese Breakfast and Mitski. These are important touchstones for her commercial début, Everybody Works. Her music is introspective, slow, and underproduced. Mind you, it’s a big step up on all three counts from Turn Into, her Bandcamp release.
While Japanese Breakfast and Mitski are better stylistic comparisons, along with Speedy Ortiz’s less polished work and The Cure circa Bloodflowers, the story of Jay Som more closely resembles Car Seat Headrest. Both are individuals passing for bands, both started in bedrooms, both found fame on Bandcamp. If you go into this expecting another instant classic like Teens of Denial, you’ll be disappointed. Duterte has spent her short life immersed in music, but is much newer to the whole album thing than Will Toledo. She doesn’t have his gift for hooks, and nor does she have the help of a seasoned producer like Steve Fisk to polish everything for her. There are few discernible lyrics, let alone ones that will strike a chord on first listen the way a show-stealing album has to.
This probably isn’t the album that catapults Jay Som to wide attention. That’s OK. She’s still young and still getting started. But it is an extremely fine demonstration of Duterte’s talent and vision. There’s a breadth and ambition here that few young artists – or indeed, artists of any age – can demonstrate early in their career. “One More Time, Please” is one part goth rock, one part dreampop, before a fake-out ending makes way for a wild guitar solo. It crams an awful lot of epic into its three-minute run time, giving it the feel of a longer suite. “One Billion Dogs” is a straight-up rocker reminiscent of Mitski’s “A Loving Feeling” meets “Bros” by Wolf Alice: fast paced, noisy, a little unclean, but somehow sweet. The clear stand-out is the closer, “For Light”. That is a seven-and-a-half-minute epic that fully warrants its run time. A melancholy Duterte repeatedly chants that she’ll “be right on time, open blinds for light, won’t forget to climb” as her trumpet and some backing vocals fade up and eventually drown her out.
You probably won’t play Everybody Works for your kids. But if Dueterte can build on this, maybe inject a little pop sensibility or find a producer who can bring her vocals to the fore without compromising her vision, then you may well end up telling them to listen to her next album. This is her Bury Me At Makeout Creek or Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes or Overly Dedicated. Jump on board now so you can feel smug later.