The Smile, ‘A Light for Attracting Attention’: Album Review

The debut album by the Smile can’t help but feel a bit familiar because of the presence of three key architects of the Radiohead sound. Fronted by Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, along with drummer Tom Skinner from the London jazz outfit Sons of Kemet, and produced by Nigel Godrich, A Light for Attracting Attention places later-era Radiohead works like The King of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool within more open-ended contexts.

The 13 tracks rarely force the Smile’s “side project” status. Instead, they welcome new shades and textures into a songbook that’s played against expectations for three decades. There’s more space to breathe hereL “Pana-vision,” one of the more Radiohead-sounding songs on A Light for Attracting Attention, is less angular than it would be in the quintet’s hands, and the minimal “Speech Bubbles” would glide toward ambient areas if not for Skinner’s wave-breaking drums holding it back.

It goes the other way, too: The post-punk thrust of “You Will Never Work in Television Again” is the fiercest Yorke has sounded in years, and “Thin Thing” comes close to what Kid A or Amnesiac would have probably sounded like if there was more guitar. Greenwood’s slippery bass in “The Smoke” recalls another Yorke and Godrich detour, Atoms for Peace, in its dance-y groove.

The best moments find the middle line. “Free in the Knowledge” and “Skrting on the Surface” emerged long before their appearances on A Light for Attracting Attention. Yorke performed the airy, gorgeous “Free in the Knowledge” solo a few months before the Smile made their live debut in January 2022, and “Skrting on the Surface” has been around since 2009, even showing up in Radiohead set lists in 2012.

The comparisons to Yorke and Greenwood’s full-time band are inevitable; there’s no escaping the singer’s fluid phrasing and their penchant for space-traversing sounds. But Skinner provides a more Can-like rhythmic gallop, and the songs aren’t constrained by genre or style – not that Radiohead ever let that stop them either. At the very least, A Light for Attracting Attention deserves asterisk status alongside Radiohead’s lush, expansive catalog.

Radiohead Albums Ranked

They used to wish they were special. Now they’re the most artistically significant band of the past few decades.

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