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The Smile - A Light for Attracting Attention Music Album Reviews

The Smile - A Light for Attracting Attention Music Album Reviews
The debut from Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and drummer Tom Skinner’s new group is instantly, unmistakably the best album yet by a Radiohead side project.

When Thom Yorke introduced his new band at their first gig a year ago, he took a moment to explain their name. “Not the Smile as in ha ha ha,” he said, his faux laugh echoing eerily, “more the Smile of the guy who lies to you every day.” Of course, no one figured that the most uncannily accurate doomsayer of the modern age was taking a sharp left to clown town with his latest project, but the Smile are not just aimed at shifty politicians, either. Their pearly grins are myriad, taking inspiration from smiles of love and deceit, bloody smiles and blissful ones, smiles that mend and smiles that destroy. At 53, Yorke has seen them all. And once again, he’s battling the absurdity of existence the only way he knows how: by offering a salve for his anxieties without letting anyone off the hook for turning everything we hold dear into one big joke.

This bid for transcendence amid chaos isn’t the only thing that’s familiar about the Smile. The trio also includes Yorke’s main songwriting partner in Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood, along with drummer Tom Skinner, whose eclectic resume includes work with jazz-funk explorers Sons of Kemet, electronic fusionist Floating Points, and UK rapper Kano. It’s the first time Yorke and Greenwood have collaborated on a major project outside of their main gig, and, not coincidentally, A Light for Attracting Attention sounds more like a proper Radiohead album than any of the numerous side projects the band’s members have done on their own.

We’ve got Greenwood’s lattice-like fingerpicking and saintly electric guitar tone. There’s Yorke’s voice, still in pristine form, wailing like an angel in limbo and gnashing like a punk who woke up on the wrong side of the gutter. There are synths and Greenwood’s sidelong orchestral flourishes signaling end times. Longtime producer Nigel Godrich is in the control room, giving each sound an immense and terrifying and beautiful glow. How about some wonky rhythms that keep your mind from slipping into passive mode? Yep, lots of those too. All due respect to the guys from Radiohead who are not in the Smile, but if A Light for Attracting Attention were presented as the triumphant follow-up to the group’s last album, 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, I’d bet that most people would have happily been fooled.

Then again, considering Radiohead’s infamous aversion to repeating themselves—a tendency that has at times brought them to the brink of self-destruction—perhaps it makes a strange kind of sense that this very Radiohead-y album isn’t an actual Radiohead album. It might be too obvious, too expected. So after recently retracing their own past with deluxe reissues, Yorke and Greenwood’s version of ripping it up and starting again takes the form of a new band plumbing humanity’s depths in a way that anyone who’s followed their old band over the last 30 years could appreciate.

The Smile spotlights the creative relationship between Yorke and Greenwood like never before. The two first met in adolescence, while attending Oxford’s Abingdon School in the 1980s: As Greenwood has told it, he was playing in the school’s drum room when Yorke, three years his senior, pushed him aside and told him to try a nearby upright bass instead. There was one problem—Greenwood had no idea how to play bass. Yorke, undeterred, said, “It’ll be fine, just attack it.” Since then, Greenwood has not only attacked but mastered many instruments in his role as Radiohead’s resident avant-garde musical guru, while also becoming one of the most progressive film score composers of his generation. Yorke still prefers a more intuitive approach. (“Jonny is absolutely adamant that I should not learn to read music,” Yorke once said. “He wants me to be the idiot savant.”) The duo’s left brain-right brain dynamic has proven to be one of the most adventurous in rock history.

A Light for Attracting Attention starts with a duet of sorts between Yorke and Greenwood called “The Same.” It’s the only song on the album that doesn’t feature any other players—no drums, no strings, no horns. On the track, Yorke offers a plea for human connection. “We are all the same, please,” he sings, emphasizing the last word like a man facing the barrel of a gun. On paper, you could imagine Chris Martin singing a line like that, but this is no hokey Coldplay anthem. “The Same” begins with a spare synthesizer throb vaguely reminiscent of Kid A opener “Everything in Its Right Place” that serves as the song’s heartbeat. But as it goes on, more and more sounds slowly surround that pulse, like so many nattering voices sowing discord. A repetitive piano figure bobs up and down. The modular tones begin to swarm and then fray at the edges. The effect is disorienting, almost frightening. Even if we are the same, the song seems to suggest, the static we drift through every day is working overtime to keep us apart.

From there, the album alternately combats the horrors of modern life with roiling anger and Zen-like serenity. It churns through an all-too-common cycle: see red, get fed up, take a few very deep breaths, do it all over again. A Light for Attracting Attention’s stiffest middle finger comes with “You Will Never Work in Television Again,” the most raucous Radiohead-related track since Hail to the Thief’s “2 + 2 = 5” nearly two decades ago. Armed with three distorted chords that could have filled CBGB in 1977, Yorke puts on his best sneer while standing up to a “gangster troll” who’s lording his power over an aspiring young woman. Given its explicit reference to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” sex parties, this chivalrous salvo for the #MeToo era could very well be aimed at that disgraced politician, who was once convicted of soliciting sex from a minor. Or maybe Yorke was thinking of Harvey Weinstein when he wrote of a “sad fuck” with “piggy limbs.” The fact is this song could reasonably be directed at so many different terrible men. As Yorke growls out lines like, “Take your dirty hands off my love/Heaven knows where else you’ve been,” you can practically see the spittle leave his lips.

Also likely on the Smile’s shit list: the 45th president of the United States. “A Hairdryer”—with its barbs about someone who flies south for the sun, blames everyone else for his screw-ups, and spins reams of lies—certainly seems like a swipe at the magically coiffed former head of state. Does the world need another Trump diss track right now? Probably not. But will the anxious song, which skitters on the back of Skinner’s pointillistic hi-hat work, feel increasingly relevant over the next couple of years, as the world braces for the next clusterfucked U.S. presidential election? Most definitely yes. That’s part of Yorke’s power as a dystopian seer: Every description of the present seems to also foretell the future.

When the Smile aren’t venting, they’re surfing the slime, reaching for specks of pleasure and solace wherever they can find them. “The Smoke” is a beguiling waft of understated funk that sounds like a collaboration between Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and Marvin Gaye—thanks to Yorke’s wobbling bassline and falsetto moans hinting at sensuality and self-immolation, it’s the sexiest thing he’s ever set to tape. “Free in the Knowledge,” the album’s most direct song, deserves a spot among classic Radiohead ballads like “True Love Waits” and “Give Up the Ghost.” It’s about wishful thinking in a world where authoritarianism seems so far away—until it isn’t. “A face using fear to try to keep control,” Yorke sings, before his mind tentatively turns to revolution: “But when we get together, well then, who knows?” This isn’t a call to arms, though. It’s an admission of fragility that rings painfully clear and true. The floating hymn “Speech Bubbles” mines a similar uncertainty. Over airy percussion and Greenwood’s fluttering strings and piano, Yorke sounds like a refugee with nowhere to go. As he wails about cities on fire and a sudden sense of dislocation, it’s easy to connect the words to images of Ukrainian families torn apart, waiting for the next text from a loved one left behind.

The time Yorke and Greenwood spend traveling through their own history reaches a heady apex on another weightless elegy that flows like entrance music for the afterlife. “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” Yorke sings over celestial synths on “Open the Floodgates,” evoking a classic rock cliché he’s spent a lifetime trying to dismantle. “We want the good bits/Without your bullshit/And no heartaches.” This internal monologue has been taking up space in the singer’s mind since at least the In Rainbows era in 2006, when Radiohead first sound-checked a version of the song. Its numbness in the face of impending death goes back even further, to OK Computer’s “No Surprises,” and Greenwood’s gently chiming guitar recalls “Let Down” from that same 25-year-old album. When the hook does arrive, it’s fraught and spare. “Someone lead me out the darkness,” Yorke repeats, as the cloud of synths begins to dissolve behind him. It’s an appeal that doubles as a pact between artist and audience—a pact that dredges resilience out from the abyss, that asks for absolution so we can receive it. A pact that, through it all, remains intact.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Smile - A Light for Attracting Attention Music Album Reviews The Smile - A Light for Attracting Attention Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, May 19, 2022 Rating: 5

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