Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Anak Ko, the third album from Jay Som.
You’d be hard pressed to find very many songwriters who materialize empathy into song form better than Melina Duterte. The 25-year old composer, produced, arranger and performer behind Jay Som who just released her third album Anak Ko, the follow-up to her breaking 2017 album Everybody Works that she made almost entirely in her small Los Angeles bedroom.
The album’s title, which translates from Filipino to “my child,” is a term of endearment that parents call their children. It’s fitting, considering the distinct way in which Anak Ko’s songs have a way of making the listener feel cared for. On her first two albums, Jay Som’s core sound of fuzzy guitars and romantic dream pop shoegaze sensibilities that conjure up the Cranberries and Cocteau Twins has been one that lends itself to a sun-on-your-skin blend of growth, self-empathy, and self-actualization. While that same sound makes up the base, there’s a warm confidence and sheen to Anak Ko that wasn't present before.
Take “Tenderness” for example: the bootlegged Prince drum machine (Linn LM-1) beats lay a ground for a soft pop hook to frolic over. (“That’s an obvious Steely Dan song,” she told Uproxx.) In the context of a track so radiant and joyful, it sounds more like a declaration than a resignation when she sings, “Nothing’s ever good enough / Tenderness is all I’ve got.”
Perhaps the album’s warmth and confidence came out of the returning and re-evaluating of self Duterte was experiencing during its inception. After a period of exhaustion, anxiety, and deciding to become sober following her last album, she rented a house alone in Joshua Tree, where she spent her days secluded and writing Anak Ko. “Been watching hours pass / in cars with no glass / Constructing shallow dreams of / Shoplifting at the Whole Foods,” she sings on “Nighttime Drive.” You can hear the isolated rumination and massive space of a desert landscape in the plodding piano interludes and blossoming outro strings, and in nooks and crannies all over the rest of the album.
Many moments echo the warm, gentle way you’d speak to a loved one who’s a bit lost. The album's lush, goosebump-inducing closer, in particular, is a rich pedal steel-laden country tune thick with caring guidance addressing addition. “I've been sick like you / I've had my share / Don't wanna find you / On the other end,” she sings.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, the Head of Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.