Album of the Day: Jay Som, “Anak Ko”

Anak Ko, the new album from the beloved pop songwriter Jay Som, is a document of personal metamorphosis. Written on the heels of big changes for the project’s mastermind, Melina Duterte—she moved from her native Bay Area to Los Angeles, embraced sobriety, and fell in love—its deft narratives document a life in a near-constant state of forward motion, both literal (“Superbike”) and internal (“Devotion,” “Nighttime Drive”). That sense of transformation extends to her songwriting and arrangements as well: the sweet, gauzy haze that marked Jay Som’s earlier releases has evaporated, leaving her nuanced voice front and center, along with a wide array of sturdy basslines, vivid piano, lap steel, and more.

Despite being recorded in Duterte’s bedroom, Anak Ko is lush and full-bodied; she is as gifted a producer as she is a songwriter. Opening track “If You Want It,” for instance, picks up where Everybody Works highlight “Baybee” left off, wrapping a gnarled riff around her lithe verse. But unlike its predecessor, it delivers a punching low-end—as well as a remarkable serpentine guitar solo—that emphasize its underlying turmoil. Lead single “Superbike” is a whirl of color, while the skeletal title track creates a sense of unease with its warped vocals and murky synths.

Some of the album’s most powerful moments are found in its instrumental moments. The epic breakdown that erupts in the tightly-wound “Peace Out” is perhaps the most explosive thing she’s recorded yet. “Crown” culminates in an extended jam that feels like a victory lap, and closing track “Get Well,” a devastating account of alcoholism and sobriety, is awash in heart-wrenching waves of pedal steel and a somber lead guitar. While Duterte’s knack for understated melody, as well as these songs’ unhurried pace, will be immediately recognizable to her devout fans, her turn for a wider, more high-definition sound on Anak Ko is nothing less than a thrill.

-Max Savage Levenson

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