Music has always carried inherent value, whether instigating joyous dance, attaching itself to snapshot moments in our lives, or as a powerfully comforting and wholly necessary coping catalyst in times of turmoil. Smile Machine is the embodiment of (at least) the latter in action, with Bye For Now serving as the sonic culmination of such endeavours.
The project is an (almost) entirely solo venture of Jordyn Blakely, one of the most sought-after drummers in Brooklyn. Having performed with the likes of Stove, Butter The Children, Maneka, and more, Smile Machine sees the talented Blakely utilise the end of an unsettled, unhealthy relationship and the unfortunate loss of her father to fuel a cathartic journey through the processing of trauma and self-betterment. As with many planned records at the beginning of everyone’s favourite conversation topic, lockdown halted everything and Blakely found herself facing the decision to shelve it or push on with the process herself. Thankfully, she chose the latter.
As a result, Bye For Now is a gritty brand of bedroom indie rock draped in lo-fi textures that capitalise on Blakely’s determination to unload her emotional burdens, and I’m all for it. While lacking the pristine production – a conscious and appealing choice, in my opinion – Smile Machine’s sound otherwise sits comfortably between the melodious energy of beabadobee and the biting chaos of Poppy. This balance is also perfectly suited to the contextual and heartfelt foundations beneath the vibrantly raucous décor of this five-track EP.
“Bone To Pick” comes closest to ferocity from the quintet of songs, and clearly has been titled appropriately. At first, the somewhat venomous vocals even reminded me of Guro Moe’s guest feature on Hymn‘s “Can I Carry You”, though many of the similarities end there. What is clear is the pain that Blakely is working through on this fiery opening track. She’s unleashing something, and requires the flexibility and authority to do so as she sees fit.
Fortunately, Smile Machine is the ideal vehicle for such unrestricted expression. Across Bye For Now, there is a freedom to the lead guitar lines that lends it a wandering, therapeutic, almost unplanned essence amidst the noise. These elements are backed by fuzzy, crunching distortion that wonderfully juxtaposes the sweeter moments of Blakely’s voice while at the same time remaining complementary in droves to her more frenetic vocal work.
Further in, playful synth during an instrumental section lends some pop overtones to “Pretty Today”. It’s a pacy, hooky song with moments that took me for a stroll down memory lane to the residence of My Vitriol, if you remember them. Shortly after, the melodies give way to the moderate tempo of “Snail S(h)ell” and the building energy of “Stars”, which concludes in suitably full-on fashion.
“Shit Apple” is anything but, rounding off the EP with deliciously crunchy, multi-layered lead parts that mingle with one another. They douse Blakely’s vocals in a boisterous haze of instrumentals, again epitomising the powerful emotions coursing through the EP’s undercurrent. In this case, it’s an ode to the importance of self-care and preventing your inner rot from infecting external areas of your life.
It’s difficult to avoid giving away too much when writing about an EP. At 16 minutes, the indie rock of Bye For Now ends far too soon. Honest, uncomplicated and full of musical spark, Smile Machine’s debut EP is charming whichever way you look at it while also generating a number of reasons to be excited for future music from Jordyn Blakely’s latest venture (when she isn’t seated behind the kit). As it stands, Bye For Now is the very last thing I find myself wanting to say to this record.