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Album Review: Jay Som ‘Turn Into’

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Not everybody had a terrible year in 2016. Sure, we lost David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Sharon Jones, not to mention that a giant, loudmouth orangutan became Leader of the Free World. But, yeah, for some people (and primates), it was a decent calendar year. Take San Fran rocker Melina Duterte, for example. Back in 2015, Duterte decided to upload some bedroom demos, on a whim, under the name generator moniker Jay Som — meaning “Victory Moon,” like Childish Gambino or the name I check into motels with, Mustang Watermelon. Uploaded to Bandcamp with no artwork or even consideration for sequencing, the album, Untitled, quickly spread by word of mouth. One year later, Jay Som re-released Untitled as Turn Into, courtesy of Polyvinyl Records. Oh yeah, she also went on tour as the opening act for Japanese Breakfast and Mitski, released a terrific single called “I Think You’re Alright” on Fat Possum and has been putting the finishing touches on her next record. See? A pretty good year.

But does the album live up to the tornado of hype? Turn Into may be one of those rare exceptions where the product eclipses the brouhaha surrounding it — Jay Som has crafted an indie rock gem. I could go through a list of past College Rock giants that Turn Into evokes, and there certainly is a few that come to mind: Pavement, The Breeders, Mazzy Starr, Beach House, etc. But every once in awhile, a debut album drops that immediately makes its own stamp on the sonic landscape. This album will be referenced for years to come.

Turn Into is a throwback to the “guitar record”; this is a hook-driven, lushly layered experience — guitar tone as mood enhancer. On “Why I Say No,” Jay Som features the echo of her chord progression, which blends nicely with her distorted vocals; a hallmark of DIY, bedroom pop. And that’s exactly what Turn Into is: a one-woman show. Duterte plays all the instruments, mastered the album herself and even lifted all of the furniture out of her bedroom in order to turn it into a home studio.

The album’s opening track, “Peach Boy,” is a wah-wah dreamscape, complete with flourishing vocals; a layer of fuzz overlays a My Bloody Valentine riff. Darkness arrives soon after with the next track “Ghost,” a hesitant rocker about a specter in the room. It’s both oddly inviting and haunting.

With it’s Big Star-style riff and backbeat, “Next To Me” is the standout track. Jay Som sings “I’m waiting too long I’ve had it I want to scream / and Fuck being patient I’m fragile I’m not weak,” then the solo kicks in. By the end of the song, you’ll wonder why this is only the first you’ve heard of it.

On the album closer/title track, Jay Som pleads for somebody to “Come help me. Come save me.” With the dearth of artists creating six-string manifestos, it seems Jay Som might be the one to come save us.

Mike Postalakis (@mikepostalakis) is a writer, director and comedian living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t have a Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or HBO Go account. Instead, he spends his extra money at the Gap.

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