Exactly one year ago, The Smile made its debut during Glastonbury’s live stream event, leading many Radiohead fans eager for a new iteration of the experimental globetrotter five-piece. Based on the pixelated black and white performance, The Smile seemed to have a more ’90s post-punk/math rock edge to it than newer Radiohead works, featuring Thom Yorke on vocal howls and frenetic guitar, Jonny Greenwood on bass, synthesizer, and lead guitar, and Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner on drums. The group only played four songs but came back half a year later with another live stream concert in London’s Magazine building offering more tastes of their complex yet palatable sound.
Now they have released a 13-song debut album entitled A Light For Attracting Attention, an apt name considering everyone in music and their moms are putting all attention on this Radiohead side project—which joins the ranks of other Thom Yorke projects like Atoms for Peace, which was only separated from Radiohead by Flee’s bass guitar. The new album is the closest we are going to get to a Radiohead album in a while, and while it does offer a fresh sound for the Radiohead members, the only aspect separating it from a follow up to Radiohead’s 2016 A Moon Shaped Pool, is Tom Skinner’s meticulous and grooving drum fills. And even then, many of the songs just sound like Radiohead, probably since Nigel Godrich is also producing this project. Yorke’s lyrics also touch on all his normal themes; alienation, isolation, characterization… all the “tions.”
That being said, some of the songs on A Light For Attracting Attention, are some of the best songs Yorke and Greenwood have produced in a long time. “Pana-Vision,” is celestial and some of the musical horn refrains in “The Smoke” sound more like movie scores than—no doubt influenced by Greenwood and Yorke both scoring films themselves. “Speech Bubbles,” also samples a full orchestra, not a first for the musicians, but maybe utilized the best. “Open the Floodgates” and closer “Skrting The Surface,” are also hauntingly gorgeous, but it’s not the first time I’ve described that sound for a Radiohead-esque track.
So was there any need to form a new pandemic band without Ed O’Brien, Colin Greenwood, and Philip Selway? No, not really. These songs could have just as easily been released as Radiohead, and The Smile really stretches their colours most when they strive to sound different than their beloved band. Still, this album conveys the camaraderie and need for experimentation that can happen in a room when three highly talented musicians strive for greatness.