Thom Yorke makes experimental electronic music as a solo artist, and Jonny Greenwood writes emotive classical film scores as a composer. Put them together, however, and, no matter who else is in the room, you get Radiohead.
The Smile, the duo’s new project, sees Yorke and Greenwood rounded out not by their usual bandmates, but by Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. Still, the group hits all of Radiohead’s principal marks, from nimble, arpeggiated guitar lines to swelling, doomsday-soundtracking orchestral pieces.
That’s not to say A Light for Attracting Attention (out Friday, May 13th) offers more of the same. The Smile’s debut album repackages Radiohead’s bag of tricks — layered soundscapes to which Yorke bemoans the state of the world — into something cautiously optimistic, just as the band’s winking name implies.
Take opener “The Same,” in which Yorke targets not ambivalent bystanders nor evil power holders, but his fellow aggrieved citizens caught in the middle of the game. “Somebody’s fallen down, somebody’s telling lies,” the singer notes, but suggests that “we don’t need to fight/ Look toward the light.” Insistent synthesizer notes beep one at a time as Yorke pleads with his audience. “People in the streets, please/ We all want the same,” he croons. On its face, The Smile’s opening greeting begs for peace, but its messengers, of course, require an ominous delivery.
Naturally, after “The Same” comes “The Opposite,” a track that grounds the album’s otherworldly beginning with classic, human instrumentation. A quick-and-tight drum beat sets the stage for disjointed, staccato guitar, though once Greenwood’s melodies start swirling, it all gets a little blurry. Fortunately, Skinner, a jazz veteran, keeps the beat.