If ever there was an album that could have come out at any point in the last 25 years, it’s Jay Som’s sophomore outing, “Anak Ko.” A mesh of multiple indie-rock influences, its low-key intensity, hushed vocals and emphasis on strong melodies could have placed it alongside Lush or the Boo Radleys on 4AD or Creation Records in the early 1990s or put the group on tour with Silversun Pickups or Pains of Being Pure at Heart a decade ago, or, as it happens, on Polyvinyl today.
All of the above isn’t to say the album is retro or a throwback — it’s neither — but flashes of the past flit by in nearly every song, and it’s catnip for anyone with a jones for ‘90s shoegaze or dreampop. The album and the group are the brainchild of 25-year-old Californian Melina Duterte, who wrote, performed, recorded and produced nearly everything on her 2017 debut, “Everybody Works,” and most of this one, although she invited her touring band and some friends to contribute additional instrumental and vocal parts. Still, there’s never any question who’s show this is: One-person bands can sound constricted or monochromatic, especially in the usually collaborative format of rock music, but Duterte shows a rare talent at it, with a remarkable diversity of sounds and melodies and hooks gliding in and out of the songs. The opening “If You Want It” has a skulking riff and some quiet menace, the title track is an atmospheric lilt driven by phased guitar and a distant electric piano, “Peace Out” has a Mitski-ish fragility.
The album’s title means “My Child” in Tagalog (Duterte is of Filipino descent), and fittingly it’s far more focused and direct than her debut, with a rapidly growing maturity to both the music and the album’s lyrics: Many of the songs are about self-empowerment, moving on from bad situations and the like. And at nine tracks and 35 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, or stay in one place for very long. Duterte’s low-key delivery can obscure just how much is going on beneath the surface — “Anak Ko” is both a triumph of understatement and an understated triumph.