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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Jay Som - Anak Ko Music Album Reviews

Melina Duterte’s second album as Jay Som sounds exploratory and playful, like a jam session among friends that’s just hit its stride.

Melina Duterte’s process has always been entirely self-contained. On her first two releases as Jay Som, she recorded, produced, and engineered everything herself. This “recorded alone in her room” quality has often resulted in her music being described as bedroom pop. The label is inevitable given that she works in a home studio, but it flattens the complexity of her work. Her excellent debut album, 2017’s Everybody Works, mashed together electronica, indie rock, and pop while retaining a gauziness that felt immediate and personal. Huge guitar hooks gave some songs the bright thrill of ’90s pop, while echoing, repeated vocals created moments of hypnotic drowsiness.

While Anak Ko—which means “my child” in Tagalog—is still very much a self-made release as Duterte recorded and produced the record herself, it also finds her opening up her process. She invited people including Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko, Chastity Belt’s Annie Truscott, and Boy Scouts’ Taylor Vick to play and record many instruments on the record. The arrangements sound exploratory and playful, like a jam session among friends that’s just hit its stride. From the first few notes of opener “If You Want It” to the meandering guitar solo on “Crown,” the compact and punchy choruses found in Jay Som’s earlier work are replaced with inky, moody bass and guitar. Many of the songs on Anak Ko are longer than those on Everybody Works, as if unravelled and filled with instrumental passages.

It’s these interludes that bring Anak Ko to life. “If You Want It” begins with droning bass that builds and spirals into dizzying psychedelia, giving the song a sense of narrative progression. Similarly, the tension on “Nighttime Drive” comes from the way the guitars transform to a braided wash of violin, maracas, and drums at the end. The soaring arrangement evokes the thrill of whizzing through deserted streets with the windows down. Album highlight “Superbike” sounds most like a song from Everybody Works. Its introductory chords are inspired by Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” a reference that might sound jarring in the hands of a musician less skilled at seamlessly threading saccharine pop melodies through a haze of warped guitar and drums.

The guitar work on Anak Ko is especially mature, warping over and around words and adding embellishment as tactile as embroidery on a linen dress. But with such a heavy instrumental focus paired with distorted vocals, you’re sometimes left grasping for something more concrete. Most of the songs obliquely address heartache, repeating meditative phrases like “if you want it” and “somebody tell me” to gesture at grandiose feelings. Sometimes this repetition works to establish a nebulous confusion and longing, where the meaning and order of words is less important than the delivery. On “Tenderness,” Jay Som’s crooned, slinky repetition of the phrase “tenderness is all I’ve got” feels soothing and vulnerable. A line about “shoplifting at the Whole Foods” sticks out as one of the few moments of specific imagery.

The album could benefit from a few more details to ground the otherwise indirect songwriting. The lyrics’ pastiche of observations and fleeting memories isn’t always clear enough to be emotionally resonant, to cause you to ponder their meaning after the song stops playing. Instead, the appeal is in the temporary pleasure of listening. There is an unhurried joy in these arrangements; it’s clear that Duterte, an immensely skilled musician, gets a thrill from the mere act of playing each instrument on Anak Ko. She’s making this music for herself first; she’s showing us her world, not sharing it.

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