Before you can even talk about the music of Melina Duterte’s project Jay Som, you have to get her success narrative out of the way — it’s just that good. By November 2015, she had been quietly making music and posting it on her Bandcamp page for years. On Thanksgiving last year, and after a few too many drinks, she got a one-off idea, slapped together some tracks, called it Untitled, and released it on Bandcamp. Fast-forward to now and she’s re-releasing Untitled as Turn Into on Polyvinyl. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also opened for Japanese Breakfast and Mitski on tour, released a single called “I Think You’re Alright” on the highly respected Fat Possum label, and is now working on her follow-up to Turn Into (to be released on the Polyvinyl in 2017). Clearly, Duterte has had quite the whirlwind year.
As for, Turn Into, it’s solid gold indie rock. Throughout the record, the songs weave in and out of the sounds of many modern staples of the genre. For instance. the opener, “Peach Boy”, sounds like a slower yet still boisterous piece from Los Campesinos, while “Unlimited Touch” crawls at you like a lost Beach House track. Most amazingly, “Why I Say No” somehow finds the sweet spot between Real Estate and Pavement as if that was something we knew we wanted. Interestingly, the album also delivers on homages to more classic groups. Specifically, “Drown” riffs off the My Bloody Valentine playbook without a complaint from this listener; it even explodes at the end with enough layers to qualify it for a spot on Loveless. Later, “Next to Me” sounds like a fun version of Gang of Four or Wire. The battling guitars grind and chime.
Speaking of guitars, they’re actually the best parts of the album. Duterte is the ideal homespun guitar player, as her layers are exciting, her tones are quirky, and her melodies are creative. From beginning to end, guitar parts pop out of nowhere to announce a chorus or to explode into a bombastic finale. For a taste of what I’m speaking of, try the aforementioned “Next to Me”, which begins with back and forth chords, chills out for the verses, and then just screams into a multilayered guitar outburst. And all of this happens before the bridge, during which another four to five guitars blend seamlessly and quite gloriously.
Lyrically, the album is hard to pin down, but not because of abstract language — I just can’t hear them all. Jay Som seems to revel in one of the classic tropes of home recording: distorted vocals. It sounds great all over, but can be a little challenging to decode. In an interview with KQED Arts, Duterte stated, “Being scared is a huge theme of the album”, and this makes sense from what I can eek out. For instance, “Peach Boy” seems to be about a boy she just can’t get a grip on, while “Unlimited Touch” includes the following line: “This fear I hold inside of me / I hide so no one else can see”.
If the lyrics sound a little adolescent and angst-ridden, there is a reason: Most of the tracks on Turn Into were made when she was still a teenager. The early 20s are an important time for music artists, and we often get to see them in their unfiltered prime. Duterte hasn’t even released that music yet, but I can’t wait to hear it.