in Compare/Contrast

Among other similarities, Jay Som and Vagabon just released debut(ish) albums that make me feel old and obsolete in a good way. What I mean by this is that both Jay Som (aka Melanie Duterte) and Vagabon (aka Lætitia Tamko) are both indie rock artists in their early 20’s, and also happen to not be white males. I know, my first instinct as a white male that has an affinity for the last 20 years of indie rock – which of course has been mostly dominated by white males – should be to feel completely alienated.

But fortunately, this seems to have been the way my music listening habits have been leaning in the past few months, for fairly obvious reasons. Looking at the albums I’ve responded to from this year so far, other than the one-two punch of my last Compare/Contrast, it’s mostly been female-led. But I realize I probably sound like an over-compensating male wannabe feminist libtard, who has all of the sudden made a cultural conversation about himself. And since no one wants to hear that, I’ll just proceed to talk about what makes Jay Som’s Everybody Works and Vagabon’s Infinite Worlds pretty great, regardless of whether you care about what perspective they’re coming from.

As I sort of hinted at earlier, I’m hesitant to call both albums debuts. Since they both feature older songs that were recorded (and now re-recorded) while these artists were cutting their teeth on bandcamp, which I guess is just a thing now for upcoming DIY artists. Similarly, Car Seat Headrest put out Teens Of Style – a collection of re-recorded versions of older songs to sound all shiny and new – two years ago, before releasing last year’s epic Teens Of Denial. Which judging from that release along with these two, isn’t such a bad model.

I guess the one obvious thing about the “re-recording a bunch of old bandcamp songs for a proper label” approach, is it definitely lends itself to a heavy amount of eclecticism. Because when you’re taking a bunch of songs from an artist’s developing years, when they were probably going through changes and finding their sound, that sound from song-to-song isn’t going to sound the same. But I think the eclectic nature of both these albums also has to do with these artists coming of age in the post-internet era, when you have access to any and all kinds of music, and therefore don’t see any problem with putting any and all kinds of music into one release.

By that measure, I’d say Jay Som’s Everybody Works is the album I’ve gravitated towards a bit more. Though it seems silly to pit these releases against each other, although I guess that’s supposed to be the point of these Compare/Contrast pieces? I don’t know. I’ve only done three of them now. But whatever the case, Everybody Works veers between crunchy indie rock to soft folk to whispy R&B and somehow it all (pun intended) works.

Vagabon’s Infinite Worlds on the other hand is weird case, in that I feel like I’d be even more into this album if it didn’t bear so much resemblance to two records I listened to a shit-ton in the last couple years. For one, Tamko’s voice has a lot of that same rasp of Frances Quinlan of Hop Along (the band behind my 3rd favorite album of 2014), while also sharing a lot of that band’s loud guitar dynamics. Meanwhile, her thoughtful inwardness also reminds me a lot of Frankie Cosmos (the artist behind my 3rd favorite album of 2015), and an artist who’s been noted as being a part of the same New York underground scene as Vagabon.

But the great thing about both these albums is, as good as they are on their own, I think they work best as harbingers of things to come. I can only assume that getting signed to actual record labels will only increase the musical scope of Vagabon and Jay Som’s next albums. Granted, I’m just assuming they’ll end up going down the same route as Car Seat Headrest, which is kind of the best case scenario if we’re dwelling on the top of my recent end-of-the-year lists. But again, unlike Car Seat Headrest, this ain’t no pensive white guy indie rock. These artists are something else entirely, which is just another reason to look forward to whatever lies ahead.