The Smile: A Light for Attracting Attention – Album of the year contender

Fri, May 13, 2022, 05:00

   
 

Album:
A Light for Attracting Attention

Artist:
The Smile

Label:
XL Recordings

Genre:
Alternative

Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have produced a prodigious amount of music outside of the band that made them rich and famous. Greenwood is a highly prolific solo artist and composer in his own right, scoring several Paul Thomas Anderson movies including There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread. Yorke has also dabbled in soundtracks, in addition to three solo studio albums and a supergroup of sorts called Atoms for Peace.

Now they can add The Smile to their resumés, a spanking new trio with Sons of Kemet drummer and percussionist Tom Skinner, who reportedly take their name from a Ted Hughes poem and a line by William Blake: “There is a smile of love and there is a smile of deceit”, which the voice of Cillian Murphy intoned to introduce their live performances in January.

The Smile cast a wide net, incorporating elements of post-punk, post-rock, jazz, prog, math rock, Afrobeat and electronica. The beauty of listening to musicians of their calibre is that their songs are never cluttered with ideas. They sound both expansive and minimal. “The Smile came about from just wanting to work on music with Thom in lockdown,” Jonny Greenwood has said. “It’s been very stop-start, but it’s felt a happy way to make music.”

Tom Skinner, Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke
Tom Skinner, Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke

While Radiohead have been experimenting with syncopated rhythms for decades, they’ve never fashioned anything quite like this before. Skinner brings so much to the party and is one of the best drummers you’ll ever hear. 

The Smile is not Radiohead Redux, as these songs possess a different DNA to the revered Oxford quintet. On Thin Thing, they coalesce into something truly extraordinary, forging a kind of twisted math rock with shades of Battles and The Redneck Manifesto, wrapped up in a weird pop groove reminiscent of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) from Abbey Road by The Beatles.

On You’ll Never Work in Television Again, which was the band’s first single, and the electrifying We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings, they perfect a form of almost straight-up, no-nonsense propulsive guitar rock, which will delight anyone yearning for Radiohead to return to their more traditionalist roots circa The Bends. “I’m stuck in a rut in flat land drainage ditch,” Thom Yorke spits. “And I’m drowning in irrelevance.” 

The Smoke is underpinned by a beautiful bubbling bass line performed by Yorke himself. Greenwood and Yorke appear to alternate between bass and lead guitar like the extraordinary virtuosos they are.

The question whether Radiohead will follow up A Moon Shaped Pool any time soon becomes a lot less important upon hearing A Light for Attracting Attention. The Smile have released the best album of 2022 so far.