This summer I join the crowds of headphone-wearing, transit-using residents of Washington D.C. for three months. It didn’t take me long to realize that spending an hour getting to work and an hour getting home, five days a week, was going to get monotonous. And what better time to try out new music, when there’s nothing else to do?
So now every day I put in my headphones at the bus stop, transfer to the red line, and glance down 16th at the White House as I make my way to the work. Last week, I added Jay Som’s latest release, Everybody Works, to my phone and hit play upon arriving at the bus stop. Here’s the internal monologue that followed.
It’s raining, and I hear the plop pat plink of the rain against the top of the bus stop. I’m not upset, because I like rain. And if the rush of commuter traffic wasn’t so loud, this could be the perfect soundtrack to a rainy sleepy morning: waking up slow and fuzzy, blinking one’s eyes several times before they fully open. But instead, I’m already up and on my way into the city. I hear the hurried and loud slosh and skid of cars making their way towards the Beltway. Jay Som’s twinkly, dreamy intro clashes with the anxiety I start to feel from the scene around me. I wish I was still asleep.
“The Bus Song”
I ponder the timing of putting this tune second in the lineup. Maybe Jay Som takes the bus, too. Speaking of the bus, I hope it sees me through all this traffic… Where is the bus? Where iiiis the buuuuus…?
“Take your time”?! Uh no, honey, I realize you aren’t talking to the bus in this song, but this line now has me all agitated. The bus needs to get here now! Oh – I think that’s it –
Aaaaand I guess that wasn’t my bus. Awesome. These piano and guitar indie rock vibes are great, but I really don’t like the bus. Sorry Jay Som, I hate the bus. I would just like it to be here.
“I just want you to leave”?! Are these lyrics made to torture me? Maybe the bus could leave the previous stop – now THAT would be great.
Oh finally – thank god. There it is, and it sees me. Here we go.
I can breathe, finally on my way in. This track is nice, but mellow and a bit slow for early on the album… I zone out. Debating skipping it.
“1 Billion Dogs”
The bus pulls into the metro station! I jump off and run across the crosswalk and through the pay gate to catch the next metro train. Finally Jay Som’s musical stride matches mine. The escalator whirrs and I stay to the left, using the momentum of the tune to my advantage. I’m sure this one would be great live. Why can’t the whole album be more like this?
“One More Time, Please”
Oh – I really like this one. The train swings into the station with a high pitched “wheeeeeeee” and I’m finally aligned with the day. It’s a good song for the metro and for the morning, syncopated and upbeat, adding a positive but not chipper element for those of us still waiting to have our coffee. The guitar riff and bouncy drums are catching my ear, the guitar solo reminding me of some jazz influences. It’s almost bossa nova. Really, I like this song. I look down at my phone to check which track this is, making a note to remember it for later. One more time, please?
Now here’s Jay Som’s tune that shines in her music video – riding a gondola high above some landscape in vintage snow gear. It’s also a great soundtrack for riding the train, being in motion while Jay Som croons “I know” over and over, and “If I leave you alone and you don’t feel right, I know we’ll sink for sure.” It glitters and shimmers, and I find myself turning up the volume as the tracks clatter underneath our car and we head toward the tunnels.
Again, I wish I was still in bed. We’ve lost the sunshine and the cement scenery is like a dull cocoon. This track is hard to hear on the train, and I’m thinking that most of these songs need to be listened to again with good headphones in a quieter space, because of Jay Som’s mumbling voice, the detail in the recordings, and the subtle layers. But this one lulls me into a calm acceptance of being crammed into a small space with lot of other people. Society is weird.
Still a few more stops before I get off. I’m trying to pay attention, because I like this indie rocker of a tune. It’s just getting hard to hear, as the shriek of the train’s acceleration and braking finding its way past my cheap earbuds. I still can’t hear the lyrics when I listen to this one again later in the day, but I think I’d like it live – its wild and untamed elements spiraling out toward the end.
Is this the last track on the album? I’d be pleased if it were. “Is that all you’ve got?” as the last line is my kind of ironic musical statement.
Nope. The title track’s gotta have its place. Problem is now I’m dozing off on the train, as she talks about making ends meet, and stating “everybody works.” Somewhere between the basic lyrics and the tink tink tink of the guitar, this one feels contrived, or not quite fully finished in some way. There are moments I love and then around the corner, ones I can’t stand. I can’t put my finger on it. Like it got stuck and she couldn’t change it after a certain point. Or maybe this is just what produced shoegaze indie rock sounds like. I bet my ex-boyfriend loves this song; I think it’s trying to be Beach House.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say everyone is asleep in this car. My stop is next. Why is she ending with a lazy, super sleepy tune? Is she trying to wrap things back around to the beginning? It’s got a nice west coast feel to it, but I thought she might try to go out with more of a bang.
Now I feel like I’m supposed to like this album. There’s a sense of “What did you think? Did you like it (??)” – yearning for acceptance – at the end, despite its mellow finish. But then if I don’t like it, the people who do will act like they don’t care. Like she tried too hard, but it’s still her work in there. Oh no. Jay Som has become a hipster.
Dammit. I liked Jay Som’s first release better. But maybe this one is good live.
As my stop arrives, I realize the album has ended – and I didn’t notice. But it did end with “I’ll be right on time.”
Time to get to work.