A Light for Attracting Attention
ABOVE THE CURRENT
The Smile’s debut album A Light for Attracting Attention is a look into the unique elements of three artists at the top of their creative games. Take Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke, give them free reign in front of one of their favorite drummers, Tom Skinner, and out pops something entirely fresh. It isn’t Radiohead, nor Sons of Kemet, but more than any other side project or super group this millennia—it’s an incredibly satisfying answer to an alchemical hypothetical most of us had never even considered.
Yorke and Greenwood’s solo work are distant points of a free spectrum in experimental music. While the former gravitates toward melancholic bleeps and boops, the claustrophobic warbles of a black hole, the latter takes the sadness and hope behind wounded eyes and draws it out with strings and classical touches. But when together—even away from the rest of their band—the Radiohead-ness really comes out: the chugging atmospheres, the pulsing guitar-work, the inescapable confines of rock. Add Skinner in, and everyone goes off the walls. There’s acoustic clacks, ancient rhythms, mathematically sound grooves. The mix really pushes the boundaries of anything these artists have accomplished in any other project they’ve ever been involved with.
Every aspect of Yorke and Greenwood’s contributions to their main group swirls together in surprising ways here, often resulting in some of the most interesting music in the extended Radiohead discography. Light is experimental, electronic-influenced rock at its most polished. It’s tight, swingy, and crisply produced, thanks to longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich. We hear the type of Moon Shaped Pool–era, orchestral, and quite maximal songwriting the group has perfected over the years since Kid A. But everything is bound together in tangling spidery webs of personality: Godrich’s moody, contracting production, Yorke’s ghostly vocals, Greenwood’s composing and classical-yet-punk guitar and programming, Skinner’s train-teetering-off-the-tracks drumming that always remains focused.
Where the project really differs from past output is in how the diversity of genres and styles here gets pushed to new limits, from the straight ’90s grunge of “You Will Never Work in Television Again” to the satellite alt-rock of “Free in the Knowledge” and the psychedelic art of “A Hairdryer.” “The Same” is an electric opener, shimmering with the atmospheric yet claustrophobic tone of Yorke’s solo work, complete with a frizzy, spectral synth line and a killer melody calling out the mindless tyranny of today’s world. This fades into “The Opposite,” which calls back to Greenwood’s solo on AMSP’s “Identikit,” only it’s an entire riff now, backed by Skinner’s impeccably crisp drumming. “Thin Thing” is an arpeggiated, modulated rush, with crunchy guitar not heard in such abundance since In Rainbows. The previously mentioned “A Hairdryer” is equally kinesthetic, but it more evokes the blitz of King of Limbs and the stuttering paranoia of Hail to the Thief.
Besides simply acting as a playground for some of the finest musicians of our day, the record follows suit for the artists to find sense and satire in the unmistakably terrible things those in power burden the rest of us with. The record is Yorke pleading for some decency, sanity, and attempting to shine a light on these things. But the titular spotlight is also vying for attention. It’s an all-powerful gaze that comes from ingrained power blocs’ attempts to paint the ugliness of the modern world as positives. The call for this tower to fall is at the heart of the record. The success of the human experiment depends on who’s shining the light.