Melina Duterte was sick of the boom boom tiss. The 25-year-old creative force behind Jay Som had built a dedicated following after releasing a pair of thoughtful yet accessible self-recorded albums, on which she plays every instrument and serves as producer. One of her most endearing gifts is how nimbly she weaves through styles, dipping into Steely Dan-inspired reverie ahead of swirling dream-pop; the crashing, rocky entrance of her drum kit on the beloved “The Bus Song” is an undeniable highlight. Also undeniable: Duterte’s prowess as a one-woman band, tackling guitar, bass, trumpet, accordion, keyboards, and piano, in addition to writing all the lyrics and melodies. But going it alone could only take her so far.
“I just got so tired of hearing myself play the drums,” Duterte told MTV News. “I love it, but I think for the rest of my music career, I’d rather have a drummer play on my records now.”
Getting good at the drums is intensely physical, often punishing, and quite loud. Unless you’re a rhythmic prodigy of the YouTube kind, you’re cacophonous for a long time before you can bang out anything resembling a proper groove. Duterte, though, is a great drummer — just listen to the sparkle of “Everybody Works.” But it’s hard to keep a kit in a shared living space, which Duterte had to manage. So she thought of a simple concept: Her touring drummer and childhood pal Zachary Elsasser could handle some tracks on her next record. “He will just give you so many options. It’s just limitless,” she said.
And so he did. And so did others. Anak Ko, the third album by Jay Som, released in late August via Polyvinyl, finds Duterte pulling off a tricky feat: Though she’s widened her circle of collaborators to include Elsasser and other members of her touring band, Vagabon‘s Laetitia Tamko on vocals, past creative partner Justus Proffit, and more, Anak Ko feels downright sparse and more inward than her previous work. All it took was a little perspective.
“I was like, I know I gotta be way less self-deprecating if I have other people on here because when you produce your own stuff and you engineer and track it, you have a better say in telling people what to do when they’re playing the music,” she said. “You kind of look at yourself from the outside.”
The album’s first single, shimmering fever dream “Superbike,” set the stage for such expansion. With Elsasser on drums and Oliver Pinnell on guitar, Duterte’s voice glides along the top of the track, ultimately floating away before she finishes in mid-thought: “Gonna breathe until you’re gone / Gonna breathe until you’re…” Its accompan