Album Review: Jay Som Captures Warmth and Emotion in “Anak Ko”

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Graphics by Nicole Bae

By Eva Fuller

Artist: Jay Som

Album: Anak Ko

Favorites: "Peace Out," "Superbike," "Tenderness"

For Fans Of: Japanese Breakfast, Vagabon, Lush

There's a spellbinding simplicity to Melina Duterte's music; she melds powerful emotion with palatable alt-rock that's just as cathartic as it is enjoyable. Anak Ko is the culmination of care and passion and is aptly named (anak ko is "my child" in Tagalog). In an interview with The Ringer, Duterte talks about how she's spoken to musicians who consider the release of a new record like "birthing a child out in the world." Anak Ko feels just as such, carefully nurtured and tended to. 

Melina Duterte, otherwise known as Jay Som, made a few changes when recording Anak Ko, while retaining old flourishes. She opened up the recording process to friends, including Vagabon and Annie Truscott from Chastity Belt, to name a few. With nine tracks coming in at 35 minutes, Anak Ko is tightly packed and succinct, similar to Duterte's past two records. Despite the short runtime, each track feels spacious in scope, with just enough room for each to come together. 

Jay Som is an expert in crafting kaleidoscopic emotion and sound into something that sticks.

There's a distinct musical departure from her last record-the distortion-laden Everybody Works-and there's more emphasis on clear and crisp guitar. The album's opener, "If You Want It," is good evidence. The listener is immediately hit with its punchy bassline, cueing in some tight percussion and Duterte's sharp lyrics. Her voice leaves an emotional resonance as she sings, "I'll only come around/With the thought of a new day." It's a memorable entrance that sets the stage for implicit, yet hard-hitting lyricism and instrumentalism that fills in the gaps.

"Superbike," the album's first single, is a cheery segue that's reminiscent of Lush and airy '90s shoegaze. Duterte's vocals stand out in the first half, singing of a relationship turned rotten ("Said you wanted something else/Something new for show and tell). She cuts herself short as we're led into the second half, a powerful guitar solo that says everything she needed to say. Her bitterness hits a high in "Peace Out," a bold reclamation of power that escalates into a powerful plea, singing "Won't you try/Won't you try to forgive?" It's an album standout, and one of its many emotional peaks.

By the middle of the album, it's clear that each track is just as momentous as the last.

Duterte scales back down with "Devotion," "Nighttime Drive," and "Tenderness," the record's most cohesive string of songs. She reaches something akin to metamorphosis as she repeatedly sings of change and her coming "back down to Earth."

In "Nighttime Drive" and "Tenderness," the album's last two singles, she loses herself in the serenity of the world and a budding love full of warmth. Relaxed guitar and a violin solo in "Nighttime Drive" precedes the groovy and catchy hook of "Tenderness," making for two very memorable moments.

The titular "Anak Ko" is a moody and mysterious track with indirect yet palpable lyricism, and even a vocoder. "Crown" is a story of its own, detailing the effects of complacency and climbing "the ropes to second best."

The album's closer, "Get Well," seems to "come around" just as Duterte sings in the opener, "If You Want It." Any kind of resent is absent here; all she has in love and forgiveness in her heart, poured out over the course of the track. It's not until this final track that it becomes clear that Duterte has been singing of dependence this whole time, whether it's alcoholism or reliance on the comfort and familiarity of others. She's looking for catharsis. It's a deeply powerful exit.

Anak Ko is on par with Everybody Works, two albums with powerful themes yet slightly different execution. Jay Som is definitely on track to creating something in the future that moves past her familiar realm of work and delves into something greater than before.

As the album comes to a close, we're left to find that same peace of mind.

Anak Ko was released three days before I left for college. It's been a bit of a safety blanket for me. It's become my background music when walking around campus or just sitting in my room. Even before, Jay Som has been a reliable source of comfort for me; I've listened to "The Bus Song" on the bus quite a few times.

Just like in "Nighttime Drive," Anak Ko is a car with no glass. It's unpredictable and exciting, yet safe and comfortable. There is no stable window to lean your head against as the world whizzes past. Duterte drops you right in the moment, while the past and future linger nearby.

I'm always listening intently to what Jay Som has to say, and thankfully, she says a lot.

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