To better understand how Bachelor’s Melina Duterte and Ellen Kempner fit together musically, one must simply travel back in time to 2017, when they both released excellent albums that significantly increased the profiles of their respective home-base projects.
That year, Duterte—under the name Jay Som—dropped Everybody Works, which showcased her unhurried, psychedelic fuzz-pop, built bit by bit in a bedroom but designed to feel expansive and welcoming. (It also topped Paste’s list of that year’s best albums.) Three months later, Kempner’s band Palehound released A Place I’ll Always Go, a collection of wobbly, whispery indie-rock songs that come off as compact and intimate despite (or perhaps because of) their universal ruminations on love and loss and life.
Listening now, four years later—and with Bachelor’s debut album Doomin’ Sun as context—you can imagine Kempner’s unassuming but affecting songs living comfortably inside Duterte’s spacious sound-worlds, or even connecting confidently like a USB cable and port: You push them together and feel a click. They fit snugly, because they belong together.
It may be overstating things to say Duterte and Kempner belong together, but their musical union sure is satisfying. Written and recorded during a pre-pandemic, two-week-long creative outburst in a rented California house, the songs on Doomin’ Sun bring together the two artists’ best qualities: Kempner’s vulnerable vocals and memorable melodies, and Duterte’s deadpan harmonies, rhythmic sensibility and magic touch as a producer. Sometimes, Bachelor sounds a bit more like Kempner, as on the relatively sparse “Went Out Without You,” which highlights both her knack for a nursery rhyme-like tune and her ability to sing about infatuation and insecurity in a way that’s uncluttered and relatable. Sometimes, Bachelor sounds a bit more like Duterte, as on “Spin Out,” a drop-dead gorgeous song that unfurls in shimmering slow-motion around one of the album’s most abstract set of lyrics. Her talent for making music feel lush, encompassing and dynamic—as if it’s rolling across your brain like a beautiful storm—is something to behold.
But when Bachelor sounds most like Bachelor, Doomin’ Sun really sparkles. Take, for example, “Back of My Hand,” where prominent guitar and a sturdy backbeat give way to a chorus draped in fuzz and dappled with slightly warped synth tones, or “Stay in the Car,” which veers back and forth between bouncy pop-rock and cavernous, Pixies-style guitar squalls. Later, “Anything At All” juxtaposes a seemingly harmless, rubbery bass line and singsong melody with nightmarish imagery: “She’s forever approaching / I’m forever in dread / Wrap me in silk and bite off my head.”
Doomin’ Sun ramps down with three gems that reward listeners who don’t get distracted and click away to something else. “Sick of Spiraling” sounds more or less like a Palehound song with a topcoat of psychedelic twang, while “Aurora” feels starlit, cinematic and symphonic, all in just over four minutes. (Big Thief’s James Krivchenia plays drums on both.) Then comes the title track, which features the rawest production on the album and thus offers a sort of pretend through-the-peephole visualization of that California collaboration that brought Bachelor to life. If you squint just enough, you can practically see the artistic chemistry between Duterte and Kempner hanging in the air. Both are so strong on their own, it would be brave to suggest they’re stronger together. But it might not be inaccurate. Only one way to find out for sure: A future full of not just Jay Som and Palehound records, but Bachelor records, too.
Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.