It’s wise to be wary of buzz bands. These days it hardly matters how much time you spend honing your craft—a quick ascent to internet renown typically has more to do with how much you’re paying a publicist. The indie umpires’ new model for achieving critical acclaim in the record industry is a Frankenstein monster recycled from payola’s bolts.
Jay Som, the solo moniker of Bay Area songwriter Melina Duterte, is one of the first artists in a long time whose overnight success feels completely organic. Duterte’s backstory gives stock to the layperson’s romantic and anachronistic concept of A&R: Duterte casually uploads nine tracks of sterling, personal guitar-pop to Bandcamp that someone influential stumbles upon and realizes is fucking sick. Months later, the songs are repackaged and “officially” released under the name Turn Into on San Francisco label Polyvinyl, and everyone with even a basic interest in songs and/or guitars concurs.
Jay Som’s latest record, Everybody Works, arrives less than a year after the release of Turn Into, amid critical scrutiny and the eternal specter that surrounds sophomore LPs. It’s a better album in virtually every sense. The crystalline, dreamy production adds an extra layer of pensiveness to Duterte’s already downcast musings. “Last time I was angry at the world,” she says in the new record’s official bio. “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.” On Everybody Works, Duterte is in pursuit of that something—she’s pacing the lonesome beaches of her psyche with a metal detector.
The album’s best moments are when Jay Som is right on top of the big haul. Highlight “The Bus Song” begins with chugging acoustic guitars and Duterte’s delicate vocals, before the track erupts into a jangling pop anthem. “Why don’t we take the bus?” Duterte asks after noting that her car is on the verge of breaking down. “You say you don’t like the smell, but I like the bus/I can be whoever I want to be.” It’s a quaint celebration of something totally mundane, and that’s the point: Identifying the beauty in boredom is the closest you’ll ever get to existential contentment.