Jay Som’s Everybody Works — a personal collage made from beautifully disparate pieces of sound
In a legend that’s become her version of Bon Iver’s fabled forest retreat, Jay Som – aka SF songwriter Melina Duterte – debuted her first full-length after “a few too many glasses of wine on Thanksgiving.” Turn Into consisted of nine tracks in various states of completion, recorded at various points over a year and a half – accordingly, its moods ran the gamut from joyous to melancholic, while its instrumentation (all courtesy of Duterte) jumped from languid, acoustic-driven ballads to sparkling power pop. Jay Som’s proper debut LP, Everybody Works, was self-recorded over just three weeks, but its newfound focus isn’t at the cost of variety, a large part of Turn Into’s charm. Instead, Everybody Works feels like a culmination of Duterte’s skills and influences, channeled into an LP designed to be absorbed and adored as such.
Intro track “Lipstick Stains” starts things off by dipping a toe in foreign waters – trumpet, piano, and fingerpicked acoustic guitar swirl together, cleansing our palates before Duterte drops in to guide us to lead single “The Bus Song.” Like many of her best songs, it’s heartfelt and immediately catchy, though the homespun traits that sharpened the edges of Turn Into are brought front and center here. Tape noise hums and close-miked vocals whisper like confessions, joining the aforementioned trumpet and piano as fundamental elements of the record’s sound. “Indie pop” has become as confusing a label as any other umbrella genre, but its literal definition is apt here – forward-thinking pop music with an independent sense of aesthetic and structure.
“One More Time, Please” and “BayBee” flirt with new wave’s drum machines and synthesizers, but could never be mistaken for 80’s deconstructionists like The 1975 or Blood Orange, though she has “deep admiration” for the latter. More than anything, it seems like she takes a cue from Dev Hynes’ uncanny ability to distill a myriad of influences into a cohesive work of art, cherry-picking disparate pieces of sound to add to a distinctly personal collage.
Per Duterte, the album’s title is “a note to myself: everybody’s trying their best on their own problems of sets and goals.” While she’s stated that her lyrics often don’t refer to specific events, it’s hard not to hear the ups and downs of that human process in much of the record. The Pixies-tinged title track tackles the grind of being a working-class musician, while “The Bus Song”’s chorus is a faithful pledge to a struggling lover: “Take time to figure it out / I’ll be the one who sticks around.” But it’s the comfort-food fuzz of “1 Billion Dogs” that offers the record’s most hopeful and all-encompassing mantra: “I’m going up, up, up, up, up, up, up!” the chorus proclaims, before Duterte rips into a giddy guitar solo that you can practically hear the grin inside. It’s a track to step out of the house in the morning to – a headphones anthem that feels simultaneously personal and universal.
Everybody Works may be Jay Som’s first full-length record, but it carries the fluidity and confidence of a well-traveled veteran. Duterte’s stints with indie rockers Summer Peaks and synthpop group Mammals may have made an impression, but this is 100% the product of an earnest, enthusiastic one-woman band finding her voice with astonishing ease. The bar has been set for 2017’s debuts – we’re less than a quarter into the year, but it may be hard to top.
Words: Zach Bilson