Album Review: Bachelor – Doomin’ Sun

[Polyvinyl/Lucky Number; 2021]

The ‘You are awesome. No, YOU are awesome!’-energy goes damn near unchecked on Bachelor‘s Doomin’ Sun, a record that detonates the talents of Ellen Kempner and Melina Duterte to something decisively joyous. With their individual bands (Palehound and Jay Som respectively) undergoing a steady rise in profile, one reckons they both relished mashing that rewind button and retconning the early honeymoon phase of their careers within a shared environment.

In January 2020, right before the pandemic hit, the duo booked an Airbnb in Topanga, California and started geeking out on sounds and gear without much prep time. That being said, they already had a good starting point in their first co-write “Sand Angel”, a ghostly song that unfurls like a vanilla acid trip. The song would be a nice bit of foreplay for the fun they would have recording together down the line. The thing about having fun is how it allows realness to sneak through the backdoor. There is no expectation or inner voice mucking up the process, and a lot of the songs on Doomin’ Sun home-in on the duo’s infectious creative reciprocity. In that kind of environment, even so-called bad ideas become good ones.

This ‘chortling in rapturous glee’-mode works wonders on “Anything At All”, which is just a stunning piece of music from start to end: it’s just 3 minutes and 20 in length, but its production smarts give the impression of a song twice that long. Synths glib in fur-coated decadence, the plucky rhythm section struts along the bright-lit boulevard in true old ‘45 fashion (if there’s one thing you can entrust to Melina Duterte, it’s finding a damn groove) and the Lesley Gore-styled vocal flourishes fall just short of pastiche. The sweet nothings and seductive glances spill out in a full blown shoegazey climax: the song amps up another gear just as you think it has reached its zenith. This is actually one of Duterte’s most awesome, failsafe tendencies as a producer: build up these discordant elements with gusto, and ultimately engulf them in a more polished pop hook – as if containing a storm in a snow globe. She did that on “Superbike” and she does it again here.

Doomin’ Sun strikes one big musical unwinding, and, as stated, realness will always be on the prowl when you have a collaborator you can let your guard down with. Kempner’s ability to write lyrics that exude both toughness and fragility really shines here. Her bruised vocals and spry guitar chops channel some of that Street Survivors Skynyrd magic, courting the defeatism of touring with open-hearted inquisitiveness. The closing title track’s hushed quietude underpins its grim backdrop, Kempner reaches for the silver linings of love – and having been loved – in the wake of a climate change catastrophe.

Her outgoing songwriting acumen compliments Duterte’s mastery of sound so incredibly well that sometimes you forget the latter is a savvy lyricist in her own right, an artist who weaponises her natural shyness into universal feeling. “Spin Out” is another marvel of a track, channeling cosmic Bowie-style glam rock: it just builds up into almost symphonic splendor before screeching back into an elemental strummer. Kleptomaniac-anthem “Stay In The Car” makes you imagine an alternate reality where the Pixies made a concentrated tryst with 90s space age pop-stardom.

Much like your average reality TV show, Bachelor don’t strain to try and push new boundaries, they instead lean joyfully into their primal proclivities. Being unbound from the continuity of Jay Som and Palehound gives Duterte and Kempner plenty of incentive to empty their clips with abandon. As a result, you can hear that innate thrill in both the hooks and the tiny details, the more understated nuanced bits that make you want to listen to it on headphones over and over again. Though Doomin’ Sun’s forbearing title tells us one thing, these songs at least compel you to undergo the worst thrown at you in the most comfortable of places. This album embraces you like your favorite seat, preserving your outline intimately in its fabric.