Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Melina Duterte’s alias is as unusual as the way she first attracted attention. Her bio explains that her moniker was derived from an on-line baby name generator (roughly translated to Victory Moon) and this debut arrived after she had reluctantly posted homemade “finished and unfinished” recordings to the Bandcamp site in late 2015. Those random, rough yet enticing indie rockers became a compilation titled Turn Into which led to this more conceptually focused debut full-length.
Similar to Som’s earlier music, these ten tunes were composed and recorded in her bedroom studio. She played/overdubbed all the instruments, creating a solo album few will be able to tell wasn’t the work of a full band. That’s not only notable as an indication of how sophisticated recording equipment has become but also shows Som as a rare talent who not only plays all her music, but has a finely-tuned concept of how to arrange and layer those tracks into a finished whole.
The songs range from the asymmetrical, creepy (“Bedhead),” with its minor key, experimental, stripped-down sonics, to the far more traditional mid-tempo rock of the title cut. The Latin percussion that energizes the bubbly rhythm and sweet tones of “One More Time, Please” shows that Som can write a more pop-oriented tune if she wants to veer in that direction. But even there, the song makes a sharp left turn about halfway through into a bridge that abandons the initial sound and seems like it’s pasted from another composition. Somehow it all works, creating an idiosyncratic approach that proves she can navigate the most unusual twists and turns with a maturity far beyond her 22 years.
Vocally, Som’s breathy style won’t win any awards, but works well within the context of her generally atmospheric, gauzy production. That’s particularly true of the opening “Lipstick Stains,” a diaphanous fever dream prelude both beautiful and ominous where the singer-songwriter uses her voice as another instrument in a mood-setting piece which ends in less than two minutes.
The closing, sprawling, nearly seven-and-a-half minutes of “For Light” (nearly twice the length of anything else here) unfolds at a leisurely pace, gradually building instruments atop its opening (and ending) sparse, reverbed electric guitar strums, resulting in a hypnotically intense experience creating a track best described as epic, especially in Som’s nascent catalog.
It’s an impressive start to what seems to be a promising career for Jay Som, an artist ready for the next step to build atop this remarkable and often striking self-constructed first release.