SMILE MACHINE – ” Pretty Today “

Posted: August 15, 2021 in MUSIC

Smile Machine, is the project of Brooklyn musician Jordyn Blakely , Jordyn nails the art of the scratchy pop song. Every song on her five-track EP “Bye for Now” bares its jagged teeth and delicate sweetness. The EP starts with a bang, kicking off with the face-melting shoegaze of “Bone to Pick,” which features heady guitar leads and a shouted poem about an unnerving dream. “Pretty Today,” in contrast, is speedier, with a driving, staticky rock engine, Blakely’s icy vocals and added sparkling synth detour from Isabella Minigione (Peel Dream Magazine, Baked).

While Bye for Now serves as the first solo release from Jordyn Blakely as Smile Machine, the drummer’s long been an integral part of the Brooklyn DIY scene and Exploding in Sound roster, having been a core member of Stove, Night Manager, and Jackal Onasis , as well as playing in live bands for artists including Maneka and Bartees Strange. If all of the names I just listed mean anything to you, you probably have some idea of the scuzzy, made-for-the-tape-deck, lo-fi grunge contained on Blakely’s new five-track release, 

“Pretty Today” by Smile Machine (aka Jordyn Blakely) is the second single from “Bye For Now,” due out July 16th, 2021 on Exploding in Sound Records

While some lo-fi releases leave much to be desired with their tinny soundscapes, Bye for Now is well balanced—you get a real sense of contrast and weight, and her violent cymbal crashes never overshadow the richness of her vocals. “Snail S(h)ell” is a show of pop prowess, with Blakely’s vocals radiating to kaleidoscopic effect, and it also features an appearance from Emma Witmer (gobbinjr) on keys. The EP wraps up on a clamorous note via the gnarled guitars of “Stars” and “Shit Apple,” with the latter’s wailing, curtain-closing riff dealing the satisfying fatal blow.

The crashing/shouted opener “Bone to Pick,” the mid-album low-hum of “Snail S(h)ell,” and the album highlight that is the last 40 seconds of “Stars” (the first hundred secs are good too), plus the two pre-album singles—along with a track-by-track breakdown of the project, spotlighting everyone who helped bring Bye for Now out now.

1. “Bone to Pick” 

The words for this song were written about a year before any of the music, the morning after I had a really weird dream and just wrote down anything I could remember when I woke up. In the dream, I was at a family gathering sitting at a kitchen table with my dad (who had passed away two years prior), but when I tried to talk to him or acknowledge him, it was sort of like that dream sequence in Twin Peaks where when he spoke his voice and words sounded distorted and inaudible. It felt like he couldn’t really see me or realize it was me in the dream also, and just left me with this disturbing, unresolved feeling that hung around for days. 

The riff was written about a year later when I was jamming with my friend Sean Spada on synth. Since the form doesn’t repeat, I didn’t think it would really make sense to use as a song and couldn’t figure out a melody that stuck, but I needed more material to play live so tried playing it while screaming the words from the poem over it to kind of emulate that frustration. It actually felt and sounded pretty good so I was like, OK, this could be a song after all, maybe!” I had to track the vocals during quarantine, but they’re insanely loud and probably annoying to listen to, so I did some takes while my roommates were at the grocery store, then edited them all into one version. There are three guitar solos happening throughout the song that I tracked into GarageBand during quarantine, and I love how they’re like a time capsule for that moment in time. I was taking remote guitar lessons with my friend Tom McCaffrey to help me work on soloing and technique. As difficult as lockdown was, it allowed me some time to practice music in a deeper way and become more independent with recording. 

2. “Pretty Today” 

My friend Isabella Minigione (Baked, Peel Dream Magazine) tracked the synth parts remotely during quarantine and we edited it into the song. Since the intro repeats a few times, her solo in the middle really stands out and elevates everything by offering some hopeful, positive energy to an otherwise pretty dark song conceptually. I love how it feels and sounds like a melody from a video game. 

My brother Brant Louck and I directed and shot the video in his backyard in Brooklyn, and it’s the third video we’ve done together (the first being Jackal Onasis’ “Big Deal Party,” the second Stove’s “Duckling Fantasy”). The pink teddy bear is symbolic of the pressure on women to constantly be beautiful, well-groomed, and well-behaved, without giving them a chance to explore or appreciate who they really are outside of their image. As a kid I always thought it was odd and rather gross that girls were advertised baby doll toys; like, why would you enjoy pretending to care for a baby when you’re still a baby yourself? The white dress in the yard is representative of society’s obsession with innocence and the construct of virginity, and the Yoko Ono book nodding toward how culturally despised some women are simply for being themselves, or for being successful—it’s always the woman’s fault.

Working with Brant is really fun because we have a similar sense of humour and he always truly understands my concept and brings it to the next level. It was his idea for me to take a selfie with the bear on the scooter, and  to poke a hole in the bear’s mouth so we could put the cigarette inside and have it look like the bear was actually smoking. It was a challenge to work in a public setting as well; the person who lives in that building came outside and asked us to stop smoking on the stoop because he had a new born baby inside, and we definitely got a lot of strange looks while I was walking around literally rambling to a stuffed toy bear in broad daylight. 

3. “Snail S(h)ell”

This is one of the earlier songs I’ve written, when I was playing in Jackal Onasis and Stove, so I wasn’t sure if it would end up being used for either of those bands and had it just sitting around. 

I asked Emma Witmer (Gobbinjr) to add some synths and texture, also done remotely during quarantine. Emma offered a lot of moral support while I was tracking with Dan Francia at their apartment in New Jersey one weekend shortly before COVID. It was really fun to hang out with them and their cats in between takes!

4. “Stars”

Dan and I tracked nearly everything before the pandemic; we did drums one day one weekend, bass another day the next weekend, then guitars and vocals during one weekend in late February, but didn’t get to keys, lead guitars, or usable vocals for “Bone to Pick.” I have a fingerpicking part for this song that I recorded two different takes of in GarageBand during lockdown. My computer is from 2013 so it’s a little slow, plus there’s this buzzing signal (not the good kind) that bleeds through every take. I added some effects available in the program, and used two full takes to cover that up, as well as any mistakes, so that it sort of blends as one version. 

Later in the pandemic I tracked some guitars at Devin McKnight’s apartment (Maneka ,Grass Is Green) and we redid those parts on this song, but I ended up using the old GarageBand takes after all because they were better performed and I felt attached to the way they sounded. I think I had one take with the Chicken Pickin’ amp and the other take had the Echo amp or another more distorted, shoegazey option, with the Heavenly Chorus and Vintage Drive pedals somewhere in there too. I did end up keeping leads that I tracked at Devin’s for “Pretty Today” and the verses and solos of “Shit Apple,” though!

5. “Shit Apple” 

I remember I ate a huge burrito right before tracking drums to this song and my stomach hurt during the entire take, but it came out OK I think. I created scratch guitar demos with a click for each song, then tracked the drums to them with headphones on. I tracked most of the lead guitars later in the summer with Devin, but had a different solo initially that I wasn’t totally happy with or proud of. Eventually I redid it with the help of my friend Jim Hill (my computer was really on its last legs at this point) and recorded two takes of it so that the feedback at the end had more shape and melody. I wanted it to just spiral out in chaos and just feel overwhelming and intense during that build up in the end, so I was pretty proud of how it turned out and am really happy I redid it.

Drums, bass, guitars, vocals by Jordyn Blakely

Happy release day to incredible new Smile Machine EP “Bye For Now,” now out everywhere!! It’s an honour to get to release Jordyn’s solo debut and we hope you enjoy it!

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