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Album Review: The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention

In 2021, while the announcements of festival cancellations are in full swing, information filters on the web concerning a new group: The Smile, made up of some of the members of Radiohead and Tom Skinner, drummer of Sons Of Kemet, a jazz band. Why yet another side-project by Thom Yorke (solo, Atoms For Peace) and Jonny Greenwood (who works extensively with the London Contemporary Orchestra and the BBC Concert Orchestra but also composes numerous film soundtracks)? The answer will come from Greenwood, saying in an interview that they wanted to pass the time during the lockdown by finishing titles they had already started working on previously.

These sessions during the lockdowns therefore give rise today to A Light For Attracting Attention, the first studio album of this super-group, produced by the indescribable Nigel Godrich, lifelong companion since the beginnings of Radiohead. The musicians of the London Contemporary Orchestra (for the strings) as well as a brass section made up of British jazzmen complete this panel of prestigious artists.
It is during the livestream edition of Glastonbury in 2021 that The Smile will make us discover for the first time the content of their compositions. There will follow, in early 2022, a series of three very private concerts in London broadcast live on the internet. The following months will also see the release of six singles (i.e. half of the album, some will say that -too much?- much of the content will have been revealed before D-Day).

A Light For Attracting Attention will delight Radiohead fans of the first hour since several pieces played by the Oxford quintet appear on the program as Sktrting On The Surface (and its magnificent clip in 16mm, in black and white, in a mine) which had already been played by Atoms For Peace and Radiohead for many years and under different versions; it is finally in a more stripped atmosphere that the piece will see the light of day in the studio version. Open The Floodgates, also played for a long time, offers here a piano transposition punctuated by a robotic keyboard to which are added some guitar arpeggios. Yorke’s voice is all the more sublimated. Finally, this title sums up quite well the essence of The Smile: most of the time, we are far from the sound explorations of Radiohead, the inspiration is limited to the essentials.

Because yes, it seems important to note that this album is not Radiohead, even if we necessarily immediately recognize the sound imprint (the voice of Yorke, the Telecaster of Greenwood or even the production of Nigel Godrich). The Same remember well Everything In Its Right Place and with its hypnotic loop and Waving A White Flag has small consonances Like Spinning Plates but the comparison may indeed end there. This album has many facets, which at first glance may seem too heterogeneous to form a coherent whole; we had discovered as a first single the surprising You Will Never Work in Television Again and its rhythmic giving to post-punk. A simple, direct track, of less than three minutes, sweeping away doubts as to the fact that The Smile would only be an album of members of Radiohead escaped under another label.
At the same time, one can also find Thin Thing, enhanced by a heady little guitar. This is probably the least consensual track on the album, the one with the most Thom Yorke touch. Its crescendo progression is one of the highlights of listening. The group therefore has no complex and brings together styles and influences.

The compositions follow one another and are not alike, however, we end by saying that everything nevertheless makes sense, if we want to paraphrase Godrich’s analysis in a recent interview. Free In The Knowledge once again proves that simplicity suits The Smile perfectly. The title, already performed a few months ago during Thom Yorke’s solo shows, is once again quite bare instrumentally speaking and it doesn’t need anything more to be sublime; its sweet melancholy (“Free in the knowledge, that one day this will end”), lifted by Thom’s voice and lulled by the strings, tends to perfection.

Six years almost to the day after the release of A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s last studio album, which was already largely nostalgic, this new project offers a work where melancholy is apprehended under a different prism and in a perhaps more direct and spontaneous way, in particular through the stylistic choices of certain tracks. Through this first album, the group draws up an inventory of the many facets that the three companions can take on. We find titles already played for several years and what may seem surprising for artists like Yorke and Greenwood is that the instrumental choice is often refined, minimalist. Far from being redundant, A Light For Attracting Attention is a coherent and convincing project, of which we hope to see a sequel in the coming years. In the meantime, the group is starting a tour which will pass through the capital in June.

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