Hey, remember that time about a year ago when the national police force declared war on civilians across the U.S., inviting the literal military into our towns because their feelings got hurt when we gave them honest feedback on how we felt about them murdering folks in broad daylight? Stuck does, and they seem pretty aware of the fact that in the year 2021, an event as turbulent as this can get quickly be forgotten after countless other events of similar magnitude—climate crises, ongoing global pandemics, billionaires stealing all of our money in order to take Dutch teens into space, etc.—pave over it. They’ve made it the subject of their new single “City of Police,” a catchy post-punk track documenting an already very tainted summer of 2020 that was further lit bright blue by the constant presence of the Chicago Police Department’s inescapable cruiser lights flashing into our homes.
“At the first peaceful protest I went to last year in Chicago, the police became violent,” vocalist Greg Obis shares. “I was on the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago walking south on Michigan Avenue when CPD raised the drawbridge over the river outside of the Wrigley Building and trapped protesters there. They called in the National Guard and shot tear gas at protesters. I distinctly remember seeing some huge National Guardsman in riot gear and thinking, ‘Oh fuck, this really is the City of Police.’ So, I wrote the song about that.
“I think this song is pretty easy to read into,” he continues. “I tried to paint a picture of police in sort of a Raymond Pettibone, Jello Biafra way. Just big, violent, dumb cops whose insecurity turns them into violent murderers that are beholden to no one. The line about the drawbridges is an adaptation of an Elvis Costello line from ‘Tramp the Dirt Down,’ a song about Margaret Thatcher. The line ‘Crime is crime is crime’ is a Thatcher quote about political prisoners in the IRA on hunger strike. I’m trying to draw a comparison between her and Lori Lightfoot, who share a similar tone-deafness to nuance. To them, all unrest occurs within a vacuum, and the only solution is to use a violent gang to snuff it out.”
The track arrives—to bury the lede just a bit—ahead of Stuck’s first new music released through Exploding in Sound Records, an almost certainly ironically titled EP called Content That Makes You Feel Good which follows last year’s Change Is Bad released through Obis’ own Born Yesterday Records. That project drops August 13—you can pre-order it here, and it you’re in Chicago you can catch the band’s release show that night at Empty Bottle supported by Floatie and Negative Scanner. For now, watch the video for the first single.
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 (does this also make her an integral part of the Party Down universe?), 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, which officially drops this Friday.
Ahead of release date, though, the songwriter is sharing an early stream of the full album—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 to life. Read it below, and listen along.
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 humor 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 newborn 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!
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 buildup in the end, so I was pretty proud of how it turned out and am really happy I redid it.
Rick Maguire has fronted Pile for nearly 15 years and in that time he’s written a whole lot of songs. Last year, he intended to embark on a tour as a solo act (something he does occasionally) but the pandemic had other plans. Instead, Maguire went into the studio to revisit some of his older songs, picking them apart and putting them back together again as an exercise before the next full-band Pile album.
That’s resulted in a full-length called Songs Known Together, Alone. “This was an opportunity to revisit the format of performing alone but with material that has been fleshed out by the group,” Maguire explained in a press release. “And while solo performances have been a part of the identity of the project throughout its existence, up until this record I hadn’t given it much studio attention in the past 12 years.”
Today, he’s sharing two songs from the new project. “I Don’t Want To Do This Anymore” turns an instrumental from 2017’s A Hairshirt Of Purpose into a more traditional song with lyrics. “The idea of adding words to a song that already existed made it seem like a blank canvas,” Maguire said. “Once I started going down the road, it became almost an entirely different song but I could still use some of the elements of the instrumental track to anchor it.”
The other track is “Build A Fire,” the first song that Maguire ever wrote for the Pile project. It originally appeared in demo from on 2007’s Demonstration. Check them both out below.
Smile Machine is the solo project of Jordyn Blakely, who's drummed in Stove, Maneka, Bartees Strange's band, and more, and she's releasing her debut EP Bye For Now on July 16 via Exploding In Sound (pre-order). She recently released lead single "Shit Apple" and we're now premiering second single "Pretty Today," along with its Brant Louck-directed video, which stars Jordyn alongside a pink teddy bear.
"This song is about wanting to create your own identity and break free from unhealthy patterns or behaviors, creating your own sense of self and not feeling stuck or enmeshed in your environment," Jordyn says. "Feeling confused about who you truly are and want to be; like maybe you never really knew yourself and are trying to figure it out all over again. It also is about examining one's codependent tendencies, and how loving someone can feel smothering or you can be the person smothering someone."
It's fueled by fuzzed-out, Dinosaur Jr-esque guitars, but Jordyn offsets the noise with the twee-ish dream pop vibes of her airy falsetto vocals. It makes for a nice contrast, as you can hear for yourself below...
Brooklyn’s Jordyn Blakely takes center stage as Smile Machine for her upcoming EP Bye For Now and it’s strident lead single “Shit Apple.”
Jordyn Blakely is one of Brooklyn’s most sought after drummers, performing in numerous projects like Maneka, Jackal Onassis, Stove, Night Manager, Butter The Children and more. This fall, Blakely will also be joining indie darling Bartees Strange’s all-star backing band lineup.
Bye For Now is an intimate, cathartic release that finds Blakely overcoming the pain of losing her father and the end of tumultuous unhealthy relationship. As Smile Machine, Blakely began picking up the pieces from these traumatic experiences and using them to better herself.
Recording for the EP began with producer Dan Francia briefly before the onset of the pandemic but lockdown upended those plans and Blakely was left to her own devices. She recruited her friends to assist in crafting the EP when precautions allowed. The EP is subdued in a lo-fi texture that harnesses the emotional burdens Blakely was trying to get off her shoulders.
On “Shit Apple,” Blakely’s tensions mix well with the propulsive nature of the track’s hazy instrumentals. Her vocals are buried beneath the cacophony of fuzzed out guitars and swell of drums that build with intensity after every stroke.
In a press release, Blakely attributed her inspiration behind the track from a Trailer Park Boys quote, “made me think about how if you’re not healthy on the inside, emotionally or mentally, it eventually spews out onto other parts of your life and people around you if you aren’t taking care of yourself and your mental health.”