‘A Light For Attracting Attention’ review: Radiohead side project, The Smile’s dystopian debut inspires despite darkness

Radiohead frontmen Tom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood join forces with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner to create A Light For Attracting Attention, under the moniker The Smile— a name Yorke described as not one of affection but of deception. Following in the footsteps of Radiohead’s 2016 album A Moon Shaped Pool, this project is comprised of many samples that the frontmen have introduced in live performances, tying it thoroughly together with immense production work by Nigel Godrich and the London Contemporary Orchestra, an ensemble of youthful artists whose purpose is experimentation in the world of music.

A Light For Attracting Attention begins with “The Same” and its long, rising instrumentals punctuated with Yorke’s lulled vocals. “People in the streets/ Please/ We all want the same,” he pleads competing with the drones of the synth, the piano keys, and the guitar riffs. This introductory song perfectly teases the album’s mood as Yorke follows through each song with dystopian ballad after dystopian ballad, so finely tuned at times it’s barely discernible.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the album lies in the variation of instrumentals. From the groovy drums and funk guitar of “The Opposite” to the classic punk roar of “You’ll Never Work In Television Again”, The Smile put on an exhibition of multifaceted message delivery and genre-bending. Yet, each song touches a dystopian chord, the central strings of the album. At times, Yorke and company dip their toes in the classical, orchestral sound like with the mystery-laden piano in “Pana-Vision”. The tracks comprise a web of complex moods, topped with Yorke’s keen, distorted melodies.

Certainly, one of the most intricate tracks, “Thin Thing” thrives in guitar and drum grooves enhanced thrushes of buzzing synths, bass riffs, and a brief organ. “Making mushrooms out of men/ Till she turns us back again,” Yorke sings, leading into a dive into psychedelia. The song drives into uncertainty. The dystopian themes are on full show with the twelfth track, “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings”. The anthemic repetition of the chorus and sonnet-like verses deliver a dual-purpose tune to the somber track, amplified by electric drones.

It exemplifies why both the London Contemporary Orchestra and The Smile benefited from this project. The Smile got the assistance of many talented musicians while those same musicians got to work with impeccable role models in the realm of music. With Radiohead and beyond, Yorke and Greenwood bolster their storied discography of avant-garde rock with yet more innovation with the addition of Skinner, and A Light For Attracting Attention is further justification that they’ve carved themselves into rock legend.

A Light For Attracting Attention is a master-stroke of dystopic genius brought together by proven elites of the music world. It’s a real experiment. It’s a daring tour into what records can be when the artists behind them never capitulate to mainstream categorisations. While its content is often melancholy and sobering, it is both a joy and an inspiration to behold. 


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