The Smile's 'A Light for Attracting Attention' Could Easily Pass for Radiohead
Published May 10, 2022Until now, Radiohead side-projects have always served a clear purpose, distinct from the band: Thom Yorke has indulged his electronic fixations, Jonny Greenwood has composed film scores, and Ed O'Brien and Philip Selway have tried their hand at being singer-songwriters.
The Smile have no such obvious reason for existing. The latest project from Yorke and Greenwood, along with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, could easily pass for Radiohead, and A Light for Attracting Attention sounds very much like the band's 10th album might.
All of Radiohead's usual elements are here: "The Same" and "Waving a White Flag" are arty synthscapes à la Kid A, "We Don't Know What Tomorrow Brings" is squelchy electro-rock that might have appeared on Hail to the Thief, "You Will Never Work in Television Again" recalls the grungiest moments of the band's alternative era, and "Free in the Knowledge" is an orchestral acoustic ballad in the vein of A Moon Shaped Pool.
Most of all, A Light for Attracting Attention strongly resembles In Rainbows, with tracks like "A Hairdryer" and "Skrting on the Surface" featuring interlocking guitar arpeggios and a heavy blanket of reverb; the latter was even a Radiohead song at one point, and they performed it live a few times back in 2012.
Yorke is in the same mode he has been in the past couple decades, mostly avoiding the lower end of his vocal range in favour of a floating falsetto and melodies that register more as texture than traditional hooks. His signature sense of cryptic paranoia is also intact — although, in such divided times as this, his vague sense of unease might raise more questions than it answers. When he sings, "A face using fear / To try to keep control" on "Free in the Knowledge," it's a politically loaded statement with an unclear target.
With Radiohead's usual producer Nigel Godrich behind the boards, A Light for Attracting Attention is absolutely gorgeous — especially the swells of strings in "Speech Bubbles," the sublime mix of resonant pianos and synth arpeggiators in "Open the Floodgates," and the way the stark bass grove of "The Smoke" is gradually fleshed out with stately horn accents. Even the album's most esoteric moments, like the dizzying guitar slapping technique Greenwood uses on "Thin Thing," coalesce into something gorgeous thanks to Skinner's jazzy syncopations.
It's too familiar-sounding to be revelatory, but six years on from A Moon Shaped Pool — the longest-ever break between Radiohead albums — it's a pleasure to hear Yorke and Greenwood's talent undiminished as they hit the sweet spot of their sound. (XL)