One-woman band Jay Som (born Melina Duterte) has been making music for over 10 years, which is incredible for someone who’s only 22 years old. The self-taught artist is emerging as a unique voice for the underrepresented Asian American women in indie music, and has formerly toured with Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski.
In an interview with Stereogum, Duterte said, “Being by myself and making music all the time…that’s where the art is. That’s where I’m the most creative, and that’s where my cathartic process for everything is. It’s what makes me feel 100 percent.”
Duterte’s previous release in 2015, Turn Into, was what she admits to be a “hastily assembled” collection of songs and incoherent thoughts that she spontaneously uploaded to Bandcamp. Her most recent album, Everybody Works, however, seems to have a more cohesive theme.
The ten-song album flows well from start to finish and captures Duterte’s velvety vocals and influences of both pop and 90s rock. The vibe that I get from Everybody Works is that Duterte reveals more emotion as the album goes on. The beginning songs are more robust and rhythmic and the later tracks leak more feelings of vulnerability, which can be rare for many artists.
“The Bus Song,” the second song in the album and the lead single, is both reassuring and uplifting. “Take time to figure it out,” Duterte sings, “I’ll be the one who sticks around / And I just want you to lead me.”
One of my favorite songs in the album, “Baybee,” has a unique sound, making it stand out from the rest of the songs in Everybody Works. The mood is surfy, but also introspective. The groovy bassline reminds me a lot of singer Mac Demarco’s music and the sound contrasts the uncertainty Duterte sings in lyrics like, “Sweetheart, listen / Make up your mind / What if it helps you sleep in the night?”
Another notable track is “Remain,” which has a hazy, yet smooth sound. The meaning of the song is likely to stem from a one-sided relationship, suggested by lyrics like, “Our pinkie promises were never meant for this / I remain, under the moon / watching it move.”
The song I found to be the most profound (and also the longest, at seven minutes, which was fine with me) is “For Light.” The song closes out the album, with a mood that suggests there is light at the end of every tunnel. In the song, Duterte repeats, “I’ll be right on time / Open blinds for light / Won’t forget to climb.” What I gathered from this song is that Duterte wants us to know that life isn’t always so miserable and it may take some work sometimes.
In an interview with Pitchfork, Duterte said, “All my songs are so different, but you know it’s me.” She’s right, though, and I think it’s worth noting that not many artists are able to explore new styles, lyrics, and emotions and still be able to maintain their identity. It’s awesome that Duterte is able to do all of this, especially for being so early in her music career.