The more I heard A light to attract attentionthe more the question gnawed at me: why isn’t this a Radiohead album?
Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood don’t have to make music with Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway and Ed O’Brien. But historically, Thom and Jonny have been Radiohead’s two most important creative forces, and The Smile – their new band with drummer Tom Skinner – most often resembles Radiohead, as any song-based partnership between these people is tied together. to ring at this late date. The production of Nigel Godrich, a key architect of Radiohead’s aesthetic in his own right, obviously further emphasizes this similarity, but Godrich has worked on all of Yorke’s solo albums and the Atoms For Peace record as well. Bringing Jonny Greenwood into the side-project fold is different – like the Mad Men season 3 finale when Don Draper and the gang sneakily start a new agency and let the old one die. This may be a totally incorrect reading of the situation, but without knowing how the Smile formed and what the other guys at Radiohead think of it, a small part of me is uneasy about this project and what it says about the state of my favorite band.
That said, unease has always been a crucial part of the Radiohead experience – literally ever since “Creep” – and sentimentality aside, it’s hard to argue the results. A light to attract attention, out this Friday, is a fantastic addition to the extended Radiohead universe and the best non-Radiohead album Yorke has ever released. I’ll spare you my granular ranking of fanboy discography (truly sick people can talk to me on Twitter), but in short, this one falls short of masterpiece status while still offering enough thrills to be hanging from the bottom half of the Radiohead catalog. In spirit and practice it most resembles Hello thief, less a coherent statement than a trash can of styles and ideas. The last two songs even sound like straight callbacks from that album: the synth bass “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings” is like “Where I End And You Begin” blaring from a runaway train, while closer “Skrting On The Surface” evokes “Scatterbrain” with an elegant brass section. And at least as often as on Hello thiefthe results of this hodgepodge are inspired.
My fellow percussion newbies might not hear any significant differences between the impeccable drumming of Tom Skinner – best known as a member of Shabaka Hutchings Sons Of Kemet’s soca and afrobeat-infused experimental jazz band – and his Radiohead counterpart. Phil Selway. Selway is a brilliant musician who was always ready to do whatever the song called for. his beats defied gravity more than once. But working with a creative new leaf seems to have unleashed a rambling energy in Yorke and Greenwood. The more rock-oriented tracks display a visceral brutality rarely heard from these guys, and maybe not at all since. In the rainbows tracks like “Bodysnatchers” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”. On songs like the beautifully funky “The Opposite” and the hyperactive “Thin Thing,” sharp guitar riffs that remind me of Mdou Moctar bend and tangle in gnarly choreography. The first single “You Will Never Work In Television Again” is the kind of hell I didn’t know Yorke had in him. When the Smiles let it rip like that, they could almost pass for a garage band; when they lock into a laid back groove on “The Smoke”, I remember The private press by former Yorke influence and collaborator DJ Shadow.
But far from being Yorke and Greenwood to make it a power-trio record, however enticing that prospect might be. Skinner brings with him a host of heavyweights from the London experimental jazz scene, including Theon Cross (tuba), Sons Of Kemet bandmate and his brother Nathaniel (trombone), as well as saxophonists Jason Yarde, Robert Stillman (sometimes at the clarinet) and Chelsea Carmichael. (at the flute here) among others. This crew plus the Greenwood pals of the London Contemporary Orchestra ensure that the Smile can flesh out its basic sound into ornate splendor whenever it pleases. Sometimes that means a return to the orchestral whirlwind of Radiohead’s latest album, 2016 A moon-shaped swimming pool, as on the piano-driven bouncing “Pana-vision” (a cousin of rhythmically complex but melancholic pieces like “Decks Dark” and “The Numbers”), the magnificent “Open The Floodgates” (a sonic continuation of the spectral “Daydreaming” ), and the jaw-dropping “Speech Bubbles” (a more sorry “Present Tense”). The best of these symphonic exercises goes much further back: the acoustic ballad “Free In The Knowledge” is the closest thing to “Fake Plastic Trees” you’ll get from Yorke 27 years later. Curvatures.