Nostalgia, Empathy, and Kindness: Why Jay Som's Anak Ko is exactly the album 2019 needed
It’s 2019 and undeniably the current political climate presents daily challenges to our understanding of basic concepts of empathy and kindness. As a result, we turn to art for a way to cope, both as creators as well as consumers. Jay Som’s Anak Ko, which is out today, rises to the occasion, offering listeners auditory escape in a solid, albeit brief nine tracks. Melina Duterte, the creative force behind the moniker Jay Som, named the album after the phrase, which translated means “my child” for the way her Filipino mother affectionately addresses her in text messages. It’s this sort of inward and close personal reflection that carries through the songs and makes it perhaps Duterte’s strongest work to date.
There are noticeable influences and nods to 1990s alternative artists like The Breeders, but Duterte’s exploration and inclusion of other influences and instruments such as pedal steel in the closing track “Get Well” demonstrate not only a curiosity in her songwriting but an underlying denial to be boxed in by typical genre defining boundaries. The same is true as well for “Tenderness” with drums evocative of 1990s pop and the declaration, “tenderness is all I’ve got.” “Superbike” was a self-described attempt to combine the influences of Cocteau Twins and Alanis Morrisette, an achievement that Duterte succeeds in.
Anak Ko is the first record Duterte has written since working toward sobriety and this inward rumination and clarity present in her work demonstrates her journey’s progress. The sound is nostalgic but not in a masturbatory false historical consciousness sort of way, but rather it’s as if Duterte has reached back into some collective auditory memory and pulled influences forward, redirecting them into her own brave new world. She has revealed in press releases that her focus has been on becoming a kinder, more empathetic person and this drive is woven within thoughtful lyrics such as the declaration made in the song “Devotion” where she repeats “I wanna change” as a centering and grounding way to move forward. It is in this defiance of the cruelty in the world around her, Duterte has offered a solid record that is grounding reminder of what it means to be a person, in this world.