The indie-rock duo’s bachelor finds solace, but not escape, in the ’90s

Bachelor is an indie-rock alliance that makes perfect sense. Melina Duterte, who records as Jay Som, and Ellen Kempner, who directs Greyhound, met – inevitably – on tour, sharing a double bill in 2017. This reservation recognized how compatible they would be: two songwriters with breathless voices whose music can be fragile or murderous, offering both vulnerability and determination.

Kempner and Duterte got together to record a song, “Sand Angel,” in 2018. Then, in January 2020 – just before the pandemic closed – they rented an Airbnb house for two weeks, moved into some amenities, and moved in. does the rest of an album together, quickly and almost entirely on their own. At Single“Doomin ‘Sun” album, Kempner and Duterte brought out the best in each other.

In the songs they have written together, satisfaction often remains elusive. They examine desire, estrangement, insecurity, pop fandom, shoplifting and, in the album’s title track, climate change. And they sing like sisters who know each other’s secrets.

Time and staff were limited; the only other musicians were James Krivchenia of Big Thief, who plays drums on three songs, and Annie Truscott of Chastity Belt, who provides a string arrangement with a sigh on “Doomin ‘Sun”. Yet nothing seems rushed or coerced. Each song builds its own soundscape, by turns transparent, dense, introverted and noisy.

With Palehound, Kempner typically recreates a fairly realistic guitar group in the studio, while Jay Som has largely been Duterte’s solo chamber-pop construction, deploying ever-changing combinations of instruments, programming, and effects. But the two songwriters aren’t that far apart. Both are often reminiscent of female indie rock from the 90s like Belly, the Breeders and Liz Phair; Kempner and Duterte were born in 1994, when this music was new. And both are equally comfortable whispering or exploding. They will play their first live concert on June 10 in livestream, Doomin ‘Sun Fest, alongside dozens of other musicians including Soccer Mommy, Julien Baker, Courtney Barnett, Vagabon, Sylvan Esso and Tune-Yards.

Bachelor songs can break out at any time. In “Stay in the Car”, he watches in awe as a woman frantically exits a market laden with “plastic bags dug in the wrists” and leaps into the double-parked Chevrolet where her boyfriend is waiting for him. The couple “slam the trunk, take off”, suddenly escaping, propelled by a swarm of Pixies guitars.

In “Anything at All,” Duterte and Kempner sing in unison to try and fight an overwhelming attraction: “How do I know if I’m giving in? At first, there’s just a lumpy bassline and terse drum beat behind their down-to-earth vocals. But in the end, several distorted guitars made their way, just as the temptation rolled back any ulterior motives. “Moon” and “Sick of Spiraling” find a calmer intimacy, with estranged lovers confessing their loneliness and uncertainty amid patiently intertwined guitars.

The inventiveness of the Bachelor workshop is manifested in large and small gestures. “Spin Out” mixes recrimination and mourning – “you stole my best friend” – in an imposing mix of Mellotron guitars and keyboards, slowly marching towards acceptance. Subtle effects often simmer in the background to tinker with the psychology of the songs. Loops of guitar noise sow concern behind the acoustic guitar in “Went Out Without You”, as Kempner sings while trying to pretend she’s not obsessed with someone. The buzzing amps put an edge over the sleepy thirst for “Sand Angel”, while a static whistle and borderless guitar sounds greatly expand the perceived space of “Aurora,” an enigmatic piano hymn with a chorus that makes Kempner repeat, “the blood, the flow.”

There’s a nostalgic solace in the way Bachelor looks at ’90s rock, and Duterte and Kempner project a heartwarming unity; they obviously listened to each other carefully. But they did not find the happiness of escape. In “Doomin ‘Sun”, Kempner and Duterte sing like lovers in the face of global warming and “the end of the Earth”. Acoustic guitar picking accompanies them as they hold each other, gaze at a red sky and think, “At least it’s hot, at least we’re young.” For Bachelor, pleasure and comfort are fragile and temporary, to be savored because they will not last long.

“Doomin ‘Sun”

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