Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Everybody Works the sophomore album from Jay Som.
When you’re 22, like Jay Som, and trying to hold it all together for the first time—trying to make ends meet, to make love, to make art, to make your entire self from the ground up—everything seems massively important: the punctuation in a text, the way somebody looks at you, the time spent in your bedroom writing songs.
When you’re working everyday to start making yourself into something you’re proud of, everything’s a wave and it all means something. Everybody Works is about finding forward motion in that process and realizing everyone’s out there trying to do the same. The entire album is a wide-eyed bedroom pop chronicle of the process of realizing what everyday is really like the only excruciating way you can: moment by moment, thought by thought.
And despite being just 22, nobody’s more familiar with the payoff of an incremental growth process than Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som. She had a humble start with a few tracks on Bandcamp and Soundcloud in 2012, but it’s paid off in a small boom of recent recognition by artists like Mitski and media outlets like MTV and SPIN, and rightfully so (we pegged her as an artist to watch in 2017 in January). Her voice is first-kiss soft, while her textured moody guitar riffs and certain dream pop keys know exactly what they’re doing. Infused with the confessional—yet somehow never cliche—lyrics, the seductive dichotomy of uncertain confidence comprises the musical and lyrical fabric of this album, and the early 20s conscience of Durete that it encapsulates.
In the purest DIY bedroom pop fashion, the Oakland artist recorded, mixed and mastered her 2016 polyvinyl debut Turn Into herself in her room, and the process for Everybody Works was no different. Despite a more luxurious and pop-leaning sound than her previous work, she wrote, played, recorded, and produced every bit of the album. The album is, in all respects, a clear peek inside Duterte’s brain, but despite their personal nature, each song is laid out with careful space that allows the listener to derive their own meaning.
In showing us her own world in these songs, she allows us to make our own inside of it. With Duterte self-describing her sound as “headphone music,” it’s clear these tracks are made to be the soundtrack for quarter life crisis pondering and walks around a city. Jay Som isn’t afraid to be 22 and she isn’t afraid to let it all be Big. In “The Bus Song,” Buses are unexpected pockets of clarity. In “Lipstick Stains,” a lover’s lipstick stains on your mouth might as well last forever. In “Remain,” pinky promises are just memories that don’t stand up to the test of time. The weight given to details in this album isn’t to say it doesn’t touch on some big themes—love, anxiety, depression, loneliness—but it’s in the nuance that they become more convincing than the infinite volumes of lost songwriter confessionals reaching at the same themes. And her musical influences on Everybody Works are as wide-reaching as the thematic ground she covers.
Especially compared to the soft angst of Jay Som’s earlier stuff, Everybody Works finds its shine in a glistening, fearless pop coat, but the core of it remains in a playful mix of punk, ‘90s alt rock, distorted funk, soft shoegaze and indie rock. In a statement about the album on her Bandcamp, Duterte cited Yo La Tengo, Tame Impala and the Pixies among her production influences, a noticeable mix of influence amongst the tracks. She added that “[Carly Rae Jepsen’s] E•MO•TION album actually inspired a lot of the sounds on Everybody Works,” also a noticeable influence and, in a lot of ways, what ties the sound together and drives it home. She succeeded in boiling down the very best of what she loves and listens to and mixing it into a sound that’s uniquely Jay Som.
Amongst the justified cynicism of today, in a time where so many discouraged souls are just looking to give up, Everybody Works is a necessary encouragement of what we can do: keep at it, little by little—whatever “it” may be for you. The chorus of “For Light,” repeats “I'll be right on time / Won't be blind to light / Won't forget to climb.” It might be more monumental the first time you break through your youth and come to realize that that it’s beautiful to try, but we could all use a reminder. Jay Som’s here to remind us to climb.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.