The self-recorded project of California musician Melina Duterte, Jay Som made her label debut in 2016 with Turn Into, a collection of select early songs that drew widespread acclaim from the indie-music press. She followed it a year later with Everybody Works, a varied official debut album that landed on the Billboard Independent Albums chart. Earning increased attention for her textured production and stylized mixes as much as for her intimate writing, she began to find demand as a producer for others (Chastity Belt, Nylon Smile). Where Jay Som improves on the follow-up, Anak Ko, is in overall songcraft and album-length design. Written alone during a week-long retreat in Joshua Tree, the home-recorded album was again engineered, produced, and mixed by Duterte, though, for the first time, she involved guest musicians, including her live band (drummer Zachary Elsasser, bassist Dylan Allard, and guitarist Oliver Pinnell). Other players include Chastity Belt's Annie Truscott, Vagabon's Laetitia Tamko, Boy Scouts' Taylor Vick, and prior duo-EP collaborator Justus Proffit.
Though very much of its own time, Anak Ko's frequent, lush '80s influences are most notable on tracks including the Prefab Sprout-inspired "Tenderness" and the infectious "Superbike," a song that doesn't require a press release to identify Cocteau Twins as a model (less conspicuous is co-namecheck Alanis Morissette). Its swirling layers of rhythmic guitar patterns and syncopated drums provide cushiony atmosphere to a soaring vocal line. Duterte's always soft, approachable vocals don't seem to drop out of the song midway through so much as become enveloped by instrumental textures. Elsewhere, the orchestral pop of the Walker Brothers' inspired string arrangements on the elegant "Nighttime Drive" ("So used to feeling numb/Shifting through the nighttime drive/We'll be just fine"). The more experimental title track implies a steady groove as it traverses pensive, warm, ominous, and spacy sections. Later, pedal steel by Nicholas Merz is featured on the contrastingly sleepy, country-inflected closer, "Get Well." Despite these variations, discernable influences, and the involvement of collaborators, the comforting Anak Ko is more unified in tone than prior releases and benefits from its marriage of immersive sound design with consistently engaging songs.
© Marcy Donelson /TiVo