Carefully considered, reflective art-pop
Melina Duterte and her supporting cast—better known as Jay Som—expand upon 2017’s Everybody Works, with Anan Ko, their latest collection of musical shapes. The nine tracks trace many of the same sonic paths as their previous effort, but bring a tighter focus to the instrumental outlines and song structures. While the act always avoids a bombastic feeling, they never fail to convey emotional depth through their precise layering of sounds. Duterte’s lyrics are oblique instead of wordy, and as such, the music signals most of the mood changes, not her voice.
The album opener, “If You Want It,” begins with dual guitar and bass riffs, quickly joined by a third guitar layer; drums and airy vocals soon appear. The sound is pleasantly full. Duterte’s slow delivery emphasizes the tonal quality of her voice more than the lyrics themselves, so it is helpful that the warbling organ tones and a brief, but heavily modulated guitar solo exude tension. Like many of the album’s tunes, the subject matter is not as dulcet as the singing. “Superbike,” the most radio-friendly selection, follows with shimmering guitars, standard pop-rock tempo and a bubbly attitude reminiscent of the late ‘90s. The band rotates in waves of vocals and adds several percussive tools, including a drum machine and a variety of shakers to create an enjoyable, if familiar-sounding template.
A drum machine and processed guitar start the tropical, bass-heavy “Devotion.” Light strings and piano close the slower “Nighttime Drive.” Perhaps neither are among Anak Ko’s standout tracks, but they are notable for demonstrating real versatility in Jay Som’s ability to change speeds and effortlessly incorporate a variety of sounds. “Tenderness” allows the lyrics, rather than the music, to drive home the feelings of isolation as Duterte laments, “I’m feeling like we’ve just begun/ nothing’s ever good enough.” Musically it shines with its three distinct, in-song changes.
“Anak Ko” (“my child” in Tagalog), the best number on the album, abandons the verse/chorus format that much of the collection follows. Instead, the song changes its instrumentation and tone so frequently that it might better be considered a through-composed piece. A sultry vocal beginning accompanied by light piano becomes a guitar interlude, which then morphs into a cacophonous mix of extra-musical sounds, ending in a spacey sounding outro.
“Get Well” softly returns to Earth with a straightforward country progression and message, “Get well, I hope you can.” Backed by an abundance of pedal steel guitar, they leave it ambiguous as to whether it is directed to the listener or a friend. In the end, it doesn’t really matter.
Anak Ko manages to sound different and at times surprising while maintaining the distinct character of the band—which is not easy to do. The full spectrum of the album may not be as wide as its predecessor, but the leaps between songs combined with the changes and sonic palettes within far exceed anything Jay Som has done previously. Listeners will find a lot to enjoy within this 35-minute musical foray.