Jay Som has made a glorious bummer of an indie rock record.
It’s an irony of life, but when a person is straight up bummed, they just want to simmer in it, drop down and roll around in it. Melina Duterte, the mastermind behind Jay Som, has made a new record that’s essentially an exercise in this melancholic, self-destructive mood. Jay Som’s new record Everybody Works soaks itself in longing and empathy all while stretching the confines of what might be called "bedroom pop". Jay Som has made a glorious bummer of an indie rock album.
Jay Som’s last LP Turn Into was a little bit of a mess. It worked well that way though. It could be compared to an unusually talented yet charmingly unorganized art major’s portfolio, promising but dog-eared and decidedly clunky in the proverbial corners. All of the pieces of what Jay Som has become are present, but they were a little less developed. The impressive guitar work, the dour moods, and the rock-solid arrangements all peeked out for a showing, but the picture was a little fuzzy. Everybody Works has swept up the floors and straightened up the shelves. All the good stuff stays, but the lines are cleaner.
The album floats in with “Lipstick Stains”, a song that evokes that feeling of waking up in class after an especially pleasant-yet-cloudy dream. Instrumentally, it’s reminiscent of the opening of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” from Arcade Fire’s Funeral without the second act. As guitar and piano flutters, Duterte sings, “I like way your lipstick stains the corner of my smile. I pray it lasts a while”, essentially setting the lyrical mood for the rest of the record. The next song, “The Bus Song”, continues a repeated theme of Duterte’s -- being empathetic to a fault but rocking with confidence about it. Later in the album, “Baybee” is similar, but adds a new widget: the airy synth. The song ends up sounding like Mature Themes era Ariel Pink, but without the smirk. Duterte is serious about her sadness.
Elsewhere, Jay Som trots out moody slow burners (“Remain” and “One More Time, Please”), chugging guitar rock (“1 Billion Dogs”), and straight-up rhythmic workouts (“Take It”). The lyrical motif continues throughout though, no matter the vehicle. “1 Billion Dogs” asks, “Won’t you just give me peace of mind?” while “Everybody Works” states, “I guess I’ll never feel okay.” I could continue on and on with the lines laced with sadness, but we get the point. Most fortunately though, we get to experience all this in tandem with Duterte’s technical prowess. The guitar workouts at the end of “1 Billion Dogs” and “One More Time, Please” are worth the price of admission on their lonesome.
There seems to be no respite for the melancholy on Everybody Works, but as we know it just takes time and effort. Duterte knows this as well and says as much. She closes the album with what could be seen as a chant for light in the darkness of sorrow. On “For Light”, she repeats, “I’ll be right on time / Open blinds for light / Won’t forget to climb.” Duterte knows that life isn’t always so miserable, it just takes work. Wallowing in your bummer feelings is OK for a while, but you will move on eventually. Everybody does.