The Smile I’m sure is the kind of project that fans of early Radiohead get all riled up about. Worried for Phil, Colin, and Ed because Thom and Jonny are off doing their weird artsy stuff and leaving the rest of the band behind. “How will they eat?” “Who’s making sure Colin’s shoes are tied?” Okay, they may not be asking about Colin or his shoes, but there’s a consensus of fans that up to OK Computer think the weird electronic stuff is somehow unfair to the rest of the band. I’m sure the rest of the band is perfectly fine.
With the Thom Yorke/Jonny Greenwood/Tom Skinner side project The Smile it feels like Yorke and Greenwood are reveling in the sparseness of a trio. The sound is more angstier and post-punk than anything either has done in years and I’m here for it 100%. Working with the incredible drummer Tom Skinner of Sons of Kemet there’s a looseness and freedom to the songs on A Light For Attracting Attention. Produced by longtime Radiohead producer and collaborator Nigel Godrich, this debut feels inspired and urgent. Lightning in a bottle.
If you just hit play and knew nothing of this project you’d think you’d stumbled upon a new Radiohead album. That’s just the nature of Thom Yorke’s voice. It’s that singular, as is Greenwood’s playing. “The Same” is reminiscent of Yorke’s last solo album, 2019s Anima. The melancholy synth, Yorke’s lilting voice, and space-y production all come together beautifully. “The Opposite” sports a slinky groove and almost psychedelic interplay between the guitar and bass. “You Will Never Work In Television Again” is an all-out blast of punk rock abandon. There’s a joy in the venom here.
Elsewhere “Pana-Vision” rises in a cloud of gorgeous piano and a jazzy rhythm. It has the grandeur of Sir George Martin in the production, orchestra and all. “Thin Thing” has an almost math rock sound to it. Subtle touches make huge shifts here. It’s like alien rock and I’m here for it. Of course Yorke’s voice is ghostly and hangs just above the instruments like a specter watching.
Sparseness is key to what makes The Smile so unique and new to the ears. Keeping the production lean gives the core of it – guitar, bass, drums, vocals – the spotlight. The sound orbits Radiohead, Yorke’s solo work, and Greenwood’s film score work while becoming its own unique sound world.
A Light For Attracting Attention highlights the working relationship between Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, and in a lot of ways its their most straight forward work in over two decades. Where ever since OK Computer they seem to have been on a mission to out-Radiohead themselves each time out(whether intentional or not), here they sound like they’re having fun creating again. And with the addition of Tom Skinner on drums they can swing for the fences creatively and musically. They do, and surpass it on one of the best albums of the year.