Posted: by The Editor
Sometimes a partnership just works. The collaboration of Ellen Kempner (of Palehound) and Melina Duterte (of Jay Som) just makes so much sense, it seems amazing that it didn’t already exist before the two of them debuted their new songs as Bachelor earlier this year. Their styles exist in the same universe but make use of similar tools in different ways—Jay Som’s groovy, spindly, occasionally abstract indie rock fitting in so naturally with Palehound’s hushed, skeletal, more character-driven work. So it’s easy to imagine what the midpoint between these two bands might sound like.
The duo’s self-titled debut as Bachelor embodies and embraces that midpoint. It is exactly the sound of Kempner and Duterte in the same room together and it never tries to be anything else. It doesn’t need to—on Doomin’ Sun, Kempner and Duterte feel perfectly in sync and continuously play off of each other’s strengths. It’s a comfortable collection of songs that may not overshadow the masterworks of their respective projects, but still feels like a more than worthwhile addition to their increasingly stellar catalogs.
In the press cycle for Doomin’ Sun, much has been made of how these two songwriters came together first in friendship, and several of the interviews and features about them have shown how effusive and supportive of each of them is toward the other. It’s difficult to wonder whether this is projection, but it feels as if, alongside the clear synergy of Kempner’s and Duterte’s songwriting, there’s an essential element of love and admiration that seeps through the cracks of this collection. Opening track “Back of My Hand” is, by their own words, a song about “the dark side of fandom,” but with the context of their friendship it’s nice to notice the less sinister aspects of the song—it literally opens the record with Kempner singing “I’m your biggest fan.” Later, against a fun and pervasive beat with a shiny synth punctuation mark, the song lifts off into a chorus that ends “I want to know you like the back of my hand.” Taken from a different angle, this could be a song about yearning to be on even footing with a person you admire and respect deeply, and this may be one reason why it lands so powerfully as an opening statement.
While “Back of My Hand” introduces the project with a buoyant pop song, Bachelor’s genesis is more laid back and ephemeral. “Sand Angel,” the first song that Kempner and Duterte wrote together, is slinky and understated, unfurling under a woozy repeated guitar line. Here, Kempner and Duterte deliver all the lines in unison, one sometimes just a moment behind the other, as if improvising the song’s UFOF-style dreamscape on the spot. The band really thrives in this patient mode, songs like “Spin Out” and “Sick of Spiraling” standing out as some of the best on the record. The former is most reminiscent of Jay Som’s incredible 2019 record Anak Ko in its sparkling synthesizers and subtle uneasiness. “Sick of Spiraling,” meanwhile, draws from the detailed but easy-going vibe of Palehound’s Black Friday, with its jaunty Wilco-esque keys and its fuzzy guitar solo centerpiece.
The crowning jewel of Duterte and Kempner’s collaboration, though, is the moment on Doomin’ Sun when they rock the hardest. “Stay in the Car” blisters and booms to stunning heights, each chorus giving those full guitars more heat, Duterte and Kempner’s harmonized vocals more power. It’s as if the two songwriters are consistently daring each other to reach for more volume, more oomph as the song goes on. With similar partnerships like this, bringing together two musicians who are incredible in their own right, I often find that I’m only ever in the mood for one or the other, that I’m skimming for songs where one takes the lead. But “Stay in the Car” and Doomin’ Sun show that Duterte and Kempner share a rare bond in the world of “supergroups,” one that allows the two of them to thrive in unison, constantly boosting each other up to be the best they can be, together.
Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal
Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh
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