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On her first proper album as Jay Som, Melina Duterte, 22, solidifies her rep as a self-made force of sonic splendor and emotional might. If last year’s aptly named Turn Into compilation showcased a fuzz-loving artist in flux—chronicling her mission to master bedroom recording—then the rising Oakland star’s latest, Everybody Works, is the LP equivalent of mission accomplished.
Duterte is as DIY as ever—writing, recording, playing, and producing every sound beyond a few backing vocals—but she takes us places we never could have imagined, wedding lo-fi rock to hi-fi home orchestration, and weaving evocative autobiographical poetry into energetic punk, electrified folk, and dreamy alt-funk.
And while Duterte’s early stuff found her bucking against life’s lows, Everybody Works is about turning that angst into fuel for forging ahead. “Last time I was angry at the world,” she says. “This is a note to myself: everybody’s trying their best on their own set of problems and goals. We’re all working for something.”
Everybody Works was made in three furious, caffeinated weeks in October. She came home from the road, moved into a new apartment, set up her bedroom studio (with room for a bed this time) and dove in. Duterte even ditched most of her demos, writing half the LP on the spot and making lushly composed pieces like “Lipstick Stains” all the more impressive. While the guitar-grinding Jay Som we first fell in love with still reigns on shoegazey shredders like “1 Billion Dogs” and in the melodic distortions of “Take It,” we also get the sublimely spacious synth-pop beauty of “Remain,” and the luxe, proggy funk of “One More Time, Please.”
Duterte’s production approach was inspired by the complexity of Tame Impala, the simplicity of Yo La Tengo, and the messiness of Pixies. “Also, I was listening to a lot of Carly Rae Jepsen to be quite honest,” she says. “Her E•MO•TION album actually inspired a lot of the sounds on Everybody Works.”
There’s story in the sounds—even in the fact that Duterte’s voice is more present than before. As for the lyrics, our host leaves the meaning to us. So if we can interpret, there’s a bit about the aspirational and fleeting nature of love in the opener, and the oddity of turning your art into job on the titular track. There’s even one tune, “The Bus Song,” that seems to be written as a dialog between two kids, although it plays like vintage Broken Social Scene and likely has more to do with yearning for things out of reach.
While there’s no obvious politics here, Duterte says witnessing the challenges facing women, people of color, and the queer community lit a fire. And when you reach the end of Everybody Works, “For Light,” you’ll find a mantra suitable for anyone trying, as Duterte says, “to find your peace even it it’s not perfect.” As her trusty trumpet blows, she sings: “I’ll be right on time, open blinds for light, won’t forget to climb.”
Stef Chura’s debut studio album, Messes, is born of her years of experience playing around the Detroit, Michigan underground, setting up DIY shows in the area, and moving around the state-nearly 20 times. “Right when it starts to feel like home / It’s time to go,” she sings literally on its opening cut, “Slow Motion,” a twisty, dim-lit guitar pop song where she curls and stretches every word. There are worlds of emotion in the ways Chura pronounces phrases with twang and grit, alternatingly full of despair, playfulness, and abandon. Chura calls her music “emotional collage,” eschewing start-to-finish storylines in favor of writing intuitively about feelings, drawing from experiences and references related to a certain sentiment.
Through intricate guitar work and warm, textured production, Messes finds her trying to make sense of life’s ups and downs. “It’s about emotional mess, not physical mess,” Chura says. “The title track is about knowing that you are going to do something the wrong way, but you’re doing it anyway because you want that experience. I’ve had to do a lot of things the wrong way in order to figure out how to live my life.”
“Passed you on a side street/Brushed across your wrist like a razorblade.” Those are the first lines from ‘Try,’ the second track off Soccer Mommy’s Fat Possum debut, Collection. It’s also a perfect encapsulation of the band itself: quietly catchy, surprisingly confrontational, the kind of music that sneaks up on you and makes a permanent first impression. Soccer Mommy is the project of Sophie Allison, a nineteen-year-old Nashville native and musical wunderkind. Sophie built her reputation as a DIY artist, recording her own songs and releasing them for free on Bandcamp over the last few years. Collection compiles the best of Sophie’s Bandcamp work as well as a few new songs, written, mixed and produced herself.
The songs portray an artist fully-formed, mature far beyond her age. Sophie sings of toxic relationships, infatuations, and all the experiences of being a teenage girl. Or, as Sophie describes her subject matter, “crush stuff with a hint of bad to it.” There’s a playfulness to the music that belies the sophisticated nature of the songcraft. The songs can be sweet, they can be happily melancholic or melancholically happy, but they always cut deep. They belong on playlists and mixes, to be shared among friends and belted out during road trips. Collection is destined to be a favorite record. These perfect pop gems have power.
‘Allison,’ a gorgeous meditation on the bittersweet feeling of hurting someone you love while pursuing your own dreams, showcases Sophie’s talent for home recording, with multi-tracked vocals layered to perfection. On ‘Out Worn,’ a searing takedown of the desire for male validation, Sophie sings, “Not the girl that you thought I’d be/ My makeup stains all your white tees/ Bite my nails ‘til my fingers bleed/ And I can’t always hide.” The song is relatable and anthemic, striking the perfect balance between anger and sugary pop bliss.
There’s a freedom and a joy to this music, and Collection stands as an excellent to a powerful new voice. Critics may decry the end of guitar music, same as they have for over thirty years. The fact remains that as long as records like Collection exist, there will be no shortage of young artists bashing their hearts out on guitars for years to come. “You can’t say indie rock is dead,” says Sophie. “It’s just being taken over by women.”