Jay Som cements her name in indie landscape with transcendent debut

Jay Som Everybody Works | Polyvinyl/Double Denim Grade: A
Polyvinyl/Double Denim/Courtesy
Jay Som Everybody Works | Polyvinyl/Double Denim
Grade: A

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In what must have felt like a blink of an eye, Bay Area native Jay Som, aka Melina Duterte, had quite the breakthrough into the indie sphere in 2016: She re-released a collection of BandCamp songs, signed on to a label and embarked on several national tours. Even in the light of this hectic year, Duterte reveals her incredible mastery of patience in her proper debut, titled Everybody Works. Though the album itself was written in just three short weeks last October, Duterte is in no rush musically or lyrically. If 2016’s Turn Into saw the multi-instrumentalist navigating her way through anger, then Everybody Works takes listeners through the aftermath, collecting and assessing what remains after the storm.

Backed by years of experience playing jazz in high school, Duterte, who wrote, recorded, produced and mixed the whole album on her own, presents more ambitious arrangements and instruments on this record. In opener “Lipstick Stains,” bright clinking piano keys, guitar pluckings and saxophone notes glide in and out, undulating like waves lapping onto sand. “For Light” features the big brass tone of Duterte’s first instrument, the trumpet. And while we can still glean some of Turn Into’s shoegaze elements, Duterte taps into a diverse new crop of sonic influences and effortlessly weaves them into her signature DIY sound. Consequently, Everybody Works is half an hour of audio hypnosis, as its broad musical palette draws us farther and farther into this 22-year-old’s truly invigorating official debut.

As the album unfolds, Jay Som continues to demonstrate the diversity of her range. In “1 Billion Dogs,” scuzzy guitar shreds and a fevered tempo adds garage rock urgency to Duterte’s naturally low, bare-bones vocal inflection. “Baybee” bleeds with an R&B groove akin to soul-inspired indie contemporaries Homeshake and Mild High Club.

Within the album’s livelier pop tracks, Duterte resists the genre’s otherwise simple structure to build tension. Jay Som executes this several times in the alt-country tinged “The Bus Song.” She’ll let a bassline playfully linger for a few seconds in between verses, and the song dies down twice before reviving the music. Wavering synths slowly dissipate into what appears to be the ending of the funk-soaked “One More Time, Please” until a loud chord progression suddenly bursts through and transitions into a burning guitar solo.

Patience further manifests itself in Jay Som’s lyrics, but here, patience can be dangerous. Similar to Turn Into’s epistolary narration, Duterte molds her listeners into personal confidantes, or even her romantic interests. She repeatedly discloses the lengths she’ll go to for her lover and hints that the relationship might spiral into codependency (“And I just want you to need me / And I just want you to lead me”).

Duterte crystallizes the fleeting and often uncomfortable moments of young adulthood so well that the narrative she unravels in Everybody Works feels as if listeners are with her, flipping through a photo album of hers. These blurry pictures commemorate the parts of our 20s that humans instinctively want to repress, such as lying through your teeth about work or sorting through the insecurities of an undefined relationship. And by embedding lyrics laden with anxiety and nostalgia — Duterte tethers unrequited feelings to childhood rituals such as pinky promises and bus rides — Jay Som reminds us that though the angst of late adolescence is over, this new phase begets its own set of problems.

Amid all the words of doubt, however, the very vehicle that relays these worries ends up being our largest source of solace. Duterte’s gentle, soothing vocals never rise to any sort of confrontational affect. When offering the most biting imagery, the constancy of Jay Som’s dreamy voice reassures us that even with all the imperfections, accepting the reality of new, weird stages in your life is comforting in itself. Practice empathy, and as the heart of Everybody Works exemplifies, take a deep breath. We’re all taking it step by step anyway.

Contact Adrienne Lee at adri[email protected].

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