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In 2013, Blue Smiley officially formed in Brian Nowell and John Slavin’s rodent-infested North Philadelphia apartment. With Nowell primarily composing from the hammock he used as a bed, Blue Smiley created three short recordings within a year, featuring drummers Gracie Clements, Tim McMonigle, and Joe Veltri. Matt McGraw, drummer and childhood friend of Slavin’s, later joined the group to galvanize a sound that helped define Philadelphia indie rock of the 2010’s.
Blue Smiley’s first professionally recorded album ok released in 2015, featuring dystopian noise-pop compositions with fuzzy effects, unique for its focus on groove and precipitous tempo changes. Slavin then relocated to Austin, TX while close friend and bassist Michael Corso joined Nowell for the next iteration of the group.
True to the Blue Smiley ethos, their next full-length return soon followed, replete with snappy, short songs that waste no time getting to the point. On return, Nowell’s hushed vocals settle deeper into the band’s tapestry, like an iridescent thread that catches your eye at just the right moment.
During their last tour, the band introduced a handful of new songs, but never made it to the studio. While celebrating his upcoming 27th birthday with his parents, Nowell expressed his intentions to put these tracks together for a third LP. Tragically, Nowell was found unresponsive in his room the following morning on October 8, 2017, a victim of fentanyl poisoning.
In spite of the band’s premature ending, their legacy is now immortalized with this physical recording.
The even more specific and under-examined influence [on American shoegaze] is Blue Smiley, whose pair of cult-adored albums, 2015’s ok and 2016’s return, synthesized a whole new sound.