Album Review: Jay Som - Everybody Works

I hate to boil down an entire album to a one sentence take, but because this is the internet and that is what people do, here is an easy way to summarize Everybody Works, the proper debut album from Melina Dutere, who records under the moniker Jay Som: “If you like ‘indie rock,’ you will probably like this record.”

But, in 2017, what is “indie rock?”

Is it still a genre? Is it simply an idea? Does it mean a band or artist that self-releases or is linked to an independently owned and distributed label? Is it connected to a specific sound? When are indie artists no longer “indie?” What happens to them then?

You could go on and on with questions, and never really be able to come up with any solid answers. But calling a band or artist “indie rock” has about as much meaning now as referring to something as “alternative” did by the late 1990s.

I say that if you like “indie rock,” you’ll like Everybody Works mainly because for an album as lean as this, there is actually something for everybody—the question is like, “how do you take your indie?” Do you like Haim-style R&B infused pop? Do you like My Bloody Valentine-esq shoegazing? Do you like fuzzed out Yo La Tengo style jangles?

Dutere has all of that, and more.

I should say now that it isn’t like Dutere doesn’t have anything of her own to offer, or that Everybody Works is a derivative album. No—it’s just all extraordinarily familiar sounding.

Beginning with a swooning, brief introductory track, the album segues into idiosyncratic territory with the Land of Talk-esq, strummy and upbeat “The Bus Song,” (a sound she’ll return to in the second half of the record on “Take It”) before sliding into a very dreamy and brief “Remain.”

In a very long profile that Pitchfork recently ran on Dutere, her love of animals comes through loud and clear—part of the interview takes place at a cat café. Then there is the title of the fun and fuzzed out banger, “1 Billion Dogs”—a song that, like a number of them on the record, are incredibly infectious. Dutere grooves and slinks on “One More Time, Please,” and shuffles with a dreamy-pop guitar noodling on “Baybee.”

In a surprising turn, the album’s high point is Dutere’s spiral into a claustrophobic shoegaze drone on “(Bedhead),” where channels her inner-Kevin Shields in a distended guitar tone, and in a near whisper, delivers some of the album’s more personal lyrics; presumably, it references her touring with Japanese Breakfast and Mitski Miyawaki, and the empowerment she mentions in her Pitchfork profile about being part of a group of Asian American women in a white male dominated field.

Everybody Works concludes with a gorgeous, shimmering, and lengthy slow jam—“For Light” is epic and sweeping in every sense of the word, as Dutere works to build the song up layer by layer.

One of the most impressive things about Everybody Works, aside from Dutere’s knack for writing rather catchy, well-structured songs, is that this was self-recorded and produced in her home—so let that sink in for just a second, that an album that sounds this slick was recorded in her bedroom.

The Pitchfork co-signs on Dutere poise her as the “next big thing” in “indie rock,” but putting all that aside for a second, Everybody Works is an album so well made that it is able to transcend the slowly simmering hype around it. Will it age well? Will we still be talking about Dutere and Jay Som in five years from now? It’s really tough to say, but for the moment, it’s best to just take this record for what it is: it’s a fun record, made by someone incredibly young (she’s 22), who is obviously still growing into herself as a musician and songwriter, but is confident enough in her abilities to put out something that sounds this impressive.