For the studious critic the task of defining Melina Duterte’s music proves anything but an easy feat. Duterte, who since sometime in 2016 has occupied the moniker of Jay Som, even said so herself: “All of my songs are so different, but you know it’s me … I just don’t like staying in one place at all”. Speaking to Pitchfork at the time, Duterte oddly comes off sounding semi-apologetic in her rebuttal, as if in fear to cause offense to the web editor whose ultimate job that evening would be to deliberate wildly, presumably accompanied by thick brows of sweat, over which genre he/she then has to archive the feature under.
But then again, consider her uncompromising song writing to be reactionary – a defence mechanism perhaps to prevent writers and listeners alike from pigeonholing the results – and the means behind Duterte’s sudden rise surges sharper into focus. Besides if that was in fact the plan it’s certainly worked so far, never mind if its maker only had it plotted subconsciously. Even Duterte’s initial collection of recordings, amassed on last years’ Turn Into, whilst undoubtedly rougher around the edges and of lower fidelity in sound, succeeded in dissuading critics from focussing solely on the location whereby which it was written, thus evading the lamentation that accompanies the “Bedroom Pop” annex. Though that should be hardly surprising given the contrast in atmospheres spliced together across the album – like how ‘SLOW’ culminates in an enormous post-rock-style crescendo before segueing straight on into the sunny jangle-pop of the title track.
The attention to flow and continuity may not have been exactly seamless then, but what ever conviction Duterte lacked on the assembly of Turn Into has been expertly eradicated in preparation for its subsequent number. This process of learning – or possibly maturity, after all she is only aged 22 at time of writing – should more than likely explain the artists’ present intention to discredit the formal identity of her debut, choosing instead to acknowledge last months’ Everybody Works as her first official album.
Conceived from her home studio, like all Jay Som music to date, Everybody Works is the product of an intense three week episode of writing and recording. Opting to hole herself up indoors upon returning from a nationwide tour with close peers – and obvious role-models – Mitski and Japanese Breakfast, however, was a process more of natural doing than any forcible solo effort. Duterte advised multiple journalists, either prior to making the album or in reviewing its creative period later on, that toward the latter stages of the tour she had a “super itch to record again”. Why that was exactly is now pretty clear. Whilst Turn Into only saw light of day less than a year before the release of Everybody Works, the genesis of a majority of its songs date back some two or three years. For a creative still in their early twenties that can seem a lifetime, given that it’s generally a window for swift development and progress, not to mention pivotal in terms of how one adapts to the ever-flowing current of new ideas and influences, each seemingly more transformative than the last.
The result is an album as richly steeped in diversity as we’ve come to expect on a Jay Som record. Yet it’s both the song-craft and production that distance the album most from what preceded. Duterte has improved abundantly in her studio capabilities, with every measure meticulously engineered to the point that it’s almost inconceivable to imagine the recording be sourced to the same spot that gave us Turn Into. As for the songs themselves, Melina switches with ease between a myriad of what would otherwise be antithetic foundations for a less attuned musician, casting her multi-faceted indie-rock to play out alongside shoegaze, ambient and chamber-pop without bearing a flinch. She may even be boasting a little by the mid-point of the album, masterfully coercing alt-R&B number ‘One More Time, Please’ into exiting via a burning guitar solo pinged straight from the Prince songbook.
Everybody Works deconstructs the legend that previously grounded any artist remotely tied to the Bedroom Pop ideology, that being that these recordings were lo-fi because the limitations on readily available home equipment supplied no alternative. It’s proof that, with the tools that modern technology provides, the solitary DIY musician is able to construct any identity they choose for themselves, and reach just as far as that same ambition can accommodate.
And should you catch wind of a committed artist that’s content on putting out rustic material of a shoddy definition in the future, well, just keep in mind it was probably intended that way. Either that or, like me, they can’t record for toffee.
Everybody Works is out now on Polyvinyl/Double Denim. Jay Som plays The Great Escape in Brighton May 18-20.