It’s hard to make an indie-rock record in 2017. With rock’s virtually non-existent commercial clout and alternative music’s critical supremacy all but sapped, the genre has been bogged down in a midlife crisis for the past few years. Those who have managed to hang around—Mitski, Car Seat Headrest—have done so through a combination of lyrical dexterity and an ability to pluck freely from past tropes without being defined by them. Add to this list 22-year-old Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som, whose sophomore album, Everybody Works, is the most competent rock release of this year so far—if not the most boundary-pushing.
Opener “Lipstick Stains” begins with gorgeous swells of piano, guitar drones and the calming coo of Duterte’s voice. Easily the most effusive song on the record, it is a bit of a red herring on an album that will run the gamut of modern rock and pop niches, but is nevertheless a breathtaking first track.
Starting things off proper is lead single, “The Bus Song,” which sounds like a faithful copy of late 90s emo, right down to the American Football-style trumpet at the end. Nevertheless, in the first instance of what will be a recurring theme on Everybody Works, Duterte manages to find her voice within the conventions of genre, swapping emo heartbreak for cool-headed devotion. The chorus—“Take time to figure it out/I’ll be the one who sticks around”—exudes a quiet confidence. Som’s low-key ferocity elevates her above her contemporaries.
It’s perhaps the deep resonance of tracks like “The Bus Song” that makes the album’s more upbeat and immediate tracks feel a bit jarring. Tracks like “1 Billion Dogs” and “Take It” draw heavily from artists such as the Pixies, displaying an urgency that doesn’t feel earnest when paired with Duterte’s slow delivery.
Better tracks are the slow burners “One More Time, Please” and “Baybee,” which pair slick, after-midnight R&B hooks with some of Duterte’s haziest vocal work. These songs feel intimate and atmospheric without coming off as dreary, a set of jams just as suitable for the bedroom as the dancefloor. They are the album’s conceptual peak.
The title track is a solidly crafted piece of power-pop bedrock that neither seems rushed nor overstays its welcome. Though the same cannot be said for closer “For Light,” which at 7:23 seems to drag a little, but nevertheless remains a respectable closer for a respectable album.
Not everything works on Everybody Works. Nevertheless, there is a workman-like efficiency to this record, where Duterte samples pretty much everything going on in alternative music today and hits the mark more often than not. This is not the record that will save indie-rock, but it’s proof that the genre is alive, even if its time in the limelight continues to recede.