Published Mar 08, 2017Bedroom recordings often forfeit audio fidelity for intimacy, but Melina Duterte proves that the right artist can balance both. As Jay Som, she has taken her personal, guitar-based songs out of her home and on the road with Mitski and Japanese Breakfast, honing the songwriting that made her early songs fascinating in preparation for this debut album that more than fulfills their promise. Everybody Works retains her economical songwriting while adding impressively intricate arrangements.
Duterte writes in vivid detail without ever describing too much here. "Remain" and opener "Lipstick Stains" evoke deep trust and tenderness in just a few lines. Chiming guitars and hushed backing vocals maintain this impression on the former, while a sweeping array of plucked strings and heady drones lend the latter a picturesque beauty. The album's instrumentation and production expand upon her subject matter without ever overwhelming her lyrics.
This balance continues even as conflict creeps into the album. "One More Time, Please" channels interpersonal anxiety through nervy funk rhythms as Duterte pleads for peace of mind. Parts of "Baybee" sound like a chillwave Stereolab cover, but this coldness emphasizes the disconnect between the singer and her subject. Other instruments fade out entirely by the time "(BedHead)" rolls around, leaving only gloomy guitar and forlorn, resigned vocals.
Everybody Works suffers when it loses this eloquence. The dense guitar attack on "1 Billion Dogs" feels reductive compared to the expressive arrangements elsewhere. But the stunning closer, "For Light," more than redeems any shortcomings, pairing weary lyrics with mournful acoustic guitar and cementing Duterte's talents both as a songwriter and a producer. (Polyvinyl)