Jay Som Keeps Expanding Her Inner World on Sweet New Album ‘Anak Ko’ – Rolling Stone
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Jay Som Keeps Expanding Her Inner World on Her Sweet New Album ‘Anak Ko’

The third LP from one of indie-rock’s most inventive young voices.

Lindsey Byrnes*

Melina Duterte (a.k.a. Jay Som) makes music that often gets lumped in with that intimately delicate, richly interior kind of indie-rock called “bedroom pop.” If that’s accurate, she’s got a pretty big bedroom.

Few artists these days are so good at turning their private worlds into wide-open biospheres of pleasure and discovery. Duterte’s excellent third LP Anak Ko follows her 2017 breakthrough Everybody Works, on which she gave her ethereal lo-fi musings an almost Brian Eno-esque richness, mixing in Eighties R&B, soft-rock, shoegaze, chillwave and other sounds into a casually textured whole. She knew how to peel off a fuzzed-out rocker, but usually her songs took their sweet, slow-reveal time to arrive at brittle epiphanies that, in a welcome twist, often turned out to be more down-to-earth than her translucent singing and gauzy guitars would suggest: “Try to make ends meet/Penny pinch ’til I’m dying/Everybody works,” she sang on the LP’s title track. It was the work of someone shaping the logic of dreams into a mirror for her very real life.

On Anak Ko, she’s keeps doing it. The musical range is unsurprisingly wide, shifting from the swirling dreampop to dire guitar grind to smooth Seventies softness to Yo La Tengo-ish, country-tinged guitar pastorals to Nineties alt-rock. It’s all leveraged towards an unguarded sense of personal revelation; she delivers pre-break-up real talk on songs like the deceptively upbeat album-opener “If You Want It,” in which she sings “You’ve found another/To bring you joy and play a part,” before unloosing acrid blasts of guitar violence. Then there’s the rugged “Peace Out,” a song that suggests Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey in its white-knuckled creep, as she goes off from inside a bad relationship: “Want me to say right words?/Make you feel incredible/I’m selling myself short/Pulling teeth to make it work.” Elsewhere, there’s the little, yacht-y pleasantness of tunes like “Tenderness” and “Devotion,” micro-soul Skittles that land somewhere between Liz Phair and Sade as they gingerly hint towards new romantic possibilities.

The big guitar ecstasy moment is “Superbike,” evoking the Smiths and Sundays as Duterte’s vocals marinade in tide pools of glistening jangle. Traditionally, it’s the kind of thing you cue up for a slow, sweater-y walk upon a moonless English moor. But stasis has never been her thing; instead she  imagines “going 80 in the night” on her two-wheeled machine, speeding away from a suffocating reality towards the next horizon. Fitting that vibe, the overall sound of Anak Ko tends to be more relaxed and wide-open than her previous work, with Duterte stretching out and sharpening her skills as a songwriter. That comes through strongest on the standout, “Nighttime Drive.” Easeful, strummy and totally unobscured by hazy production, it shifts beautifully from images of torpor (“I’m sinking in my bed”) and half-baked escape (“shallow dreams of shoplifting at the Whole Foods”) to open up into a gorgeous chorus that’s all about taking control and shifting your life into a higher gear. “I’ll let my body win,” she promises. Wherever she ends up, it’s going to be a sweet ride.

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