Jay Som
Anak Ko
Aug 23, 2019

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Melina Duterte is a master of voice: Hers are dream pop songs that hint at a universe of her own creation. Recording as Jay Som since 2015, Duterte’s world of shy, swirling intimacies always contains a disarming ease, a sky-bent sparkle and a grounding indie-rock humility. In an era of burnout, the title track of her 2017 breakout, Everybody Works, remains a balm and an anthem.

Duterte’s life became a whirlwind in the wake of Everybody Works. After spending her teen years and early 20s exploring an eclectic array of musical styles—studying jazz trumpet as a child, carrying on her Filipino family tradition of spirited karaoke, and quietly recording indie-pop songs in her bedroom alone—that accomplished album found her playing festivals around the world, sharing stages with the likes of Paramore, Death Cab for Cutie, and Mitski.

In November of 2017, seeking a new environment, Duterte left her home of the Bay Area for Los Angeles. There, she demoed new songs, while also embracing opportunities to do session work and produce, engineer, and mix for other artists (like Sasami, Chastity Belt). Reckoning with the relative instability of musicianhood, Duterte turned inward, tuning ever deeper into her own emotions and desires as a way of staying centered through huge changes. She found a community; she fell in love. And for an artist whose career began after releasing her earliest collection of demos—2015's hazy but exquisitely crafted Turn Into—in a fit of drunken confidence on Thanksgiving night, she finally quit drinking for good. “I feel like a completely different person,” she reflects. Positivity was a way forward.

The striking clarity of her new music reflects that shift. After months of poring over pools of demos, Duterte, now 25, essentially started over. She wrote most of her brilliant new album, Anak Ko—pronounced Anuhk-Ko—in a burst during a self-imposed week-long solo retreat to Joshua Tree. As in the past, Duterte recorded at home (in some songs, you can hear the washer/dryer near her bedroom) and remained the sole producer, engineer, and mixer. But for the first time, she recruited friends—including Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko, Chastity Belt’s Annie Truscott, Justus Proffit, Boy Scouts’ Taylor Vick, as well as bandmates Zachary Elasser, Oliver Pinnell and Dylan Allard—to contribute additional vocals, drums, guitars, strings, and pedal steel. Honing in on simplicity and groove, refining her skills as a producer, Duterte cracked her sound open subtly, highlighting its best parts: She’s bloomed.

Inspired by the lush, poppy sounds of 80s bands such as Prefab Sprout, the Cure, and Cocteau Twins—as well as the ecstatic guitarwork of contemporary Vancouver band Weed—Anak Ko sounds dazzlingly tactile, and firmly present. The result is a refreshingly precise sound. On the subtly explosive “Superbike,” Duterte aimed for the genius combination of “Cocteau Twins and Alanis Morissette”—“letting loose,” she says, over swirling shoegaze. “Night Time Drive” is a restless road song, but one with a sense of contentedness and composure, which “basically encapsulated my entire life for the past two years,” she says—always moving, but “accepting it, being a little stronger from it.” (She sings, memorably, of “shoplifting at the Whole Foods.”) Duterte focused more on bass this time: “I just wanted to make a more groovy record,” she notes.

The slow-burning highlight “Tenderness” begins minimally, like a slightly muffled phone call, before flowering into a bright, jazzy earworm. Duterte calls it “a feel-good, funky, kind of sexy song” in part about “the curse of social media” and how it complicates relationships. “That’s definitely about scrolling on your phone and seeing a person and it just haunts you, you can’t escape it,” Duterte says. “I have a weird relationship to social media and how people perceive me—as this person that has a platform, as a solo artist, and this marginalized person. That was really getting to me. I wanted to express those emotions, but I felt stifled. I feel like a lot of the themes of the songs stemmed from bottled up emotions, frustration with yourself, and acceptance.”

The title, Anak Ko, means “my child" in Tagalog, one of the native dialects in the Philippines. It was inspired by an unassuming text message from Duterte’s mother, who has always addressed her as such: Hi anak ko, I love you anak ko. “It’s an endearing thing to say, it feels comfortable,” Duterte reflects, likening the process of creating and releasing an album, too, to “birthing a child.” That sense of care charges Anak Ko, as does another concept Duterte has found herself circling back to: the importance of patience and kindness.

“In order to change, you’ve got to make so many mistakes,” Duterte says, reflecting on her recent growth as an artist with a zen-like calm. “What’s helped me is forcing myself to be even more peaceful and kind with myself and others. You can get so caught up in attention, and the monetary value of being a musician, that you can forget to be humble. You can learn more from humility than the flashy stuff. I want kindness in my life. Kindness is the most important thing for this job, and empathy.”

Songs

  • 1
    If You Want It (3:13)
  • 2
    Superbike (3:53)
  • 3
    Peace Out (4:17)
  • 4
    Devotion (3:32)
  • 5
    Nighttime Drive (3:13)
  • 6
    Tenderness (4:01)
  • 7
    Anak Ko (3:38)
  • 8
    Crown (4:38)
  • 9
    Get Well (3:57)

Reviews

"Melina Duterte, who records as Jay Som, makes most of her music by herself in a home studio. Yet her songs are anything but spartan or simplistic; within three or four minutes, they repeatedly transform themselves, musically and emotionally."

The New York Times

"Few artists these days are so good at turning their private worlds into wide-open biospheres of pleasure and discovery...one of indie rock's most inventive young voices."

Rolling Stone

“Jay Som leans toward 1990s alt-rock influences, but her straightforward music and direct songwriting are entirely her own, mixing catharsis with focused contemplation.”

Wall Street Journal

"Duterte continues to stand out among a legion of genre-flouting nostalgists. With just 12 notes and a lifetime of memories, she’s assembled another mesmerizing self-portrait.”

Stereogum

"The arrangements sound exploratory and playful, like a jam session among friends that’s just hit its stride."

Pitchfork

"Anak Ko owes a lot to Duterte’s awareness of how simplicity can breed beauty. Its greatest trick is the delicate fittings of nuance amongst deceptively uncomplicated compositions.”

The Quietus

"Melina Duterte has once again answered our prayers—this time providing a first-wave 4AD release you can sing at karaoke."

FLOOD Magazine

"The record and its seamless transitions from one heavily enticing, tender, and softly delivered track to the next paints a captivating and enthralling self-portrait...of an artist who’s established herself as a masterful songwriter and musician."

Consequence of Sound

"Anak Ko glides from track to track with an elegant confidence, its clean guitar sound making the contours of Duterte’s vision crystal clear."

The Ringer

"The album captures a slew of emotions typically hard to put into words, or even a single song.”

W Magazine

"Jay Som is getting bigger and better."

GQ

"Jay Som’s band of indie rockers turns the dial left by a decade or two, channeling the lo-fi romanticism of Lite FM radio. Yet for a purveyor of soft rock nostalgia, the 25-year-old has a knack for writing love songs that are undeniably of this moment."

Rolling Stone

"Jay Som's dreamy rock climbs to new and dazzling heights on "Superbike," which makes me want to E.T. my way into space."

The FADER

"It's called "Superbike," but Jay Som's excellent new single is better built for swimming. You don't even need a pool — creative force Melina Duterte has fashioned a rich, oceanic dream-pop ecosystem for you to cannonball into and splash around in for a while."

MTV

"“Superbike” itself is a sweeping dream-pop odyssey that paints from Jay Som’s sonic palette, but does so on an expansive canvas: the single’s lyrics fall away after its midpoint, shifting focus to the single’s mournful strings, ghostly voices and a guitar solo that sounds like the earth shifting beneath your feet."

Paste
"Melina Duterte writes jangly and emotionally-complex guitar-pop as Jay Som… [‘Superbikes’] swirling guitars and sweet pop melody hit the mark, especially as the song's second half unfurls with layers of instrumentation and Duterte's crooning guitar."
NPR

"At once possessing the anthemic, strumming-with-purpose poise of Alanis, but washed over with the dreamy haze of Cocteau Twins, 'Superbike' is an immediate delight."

The 405
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Videos

  • Superbike (4:09)
  • Nighttime Drive (3:13)
    Han Hale
  • Tenderness (3:59)
    Weird Life

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