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The Other Face of Radiohead

Door Shelly Ridenour |

The Smile, where Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood meet Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner for a battle of the genres to create something... well, very Radiohead!

When is a Radiohead record not a Radiohead record? That's a fair question when listening to the debut from The Smile—which includes most prominent Radiohead members Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, and is produced by Nigel Godrich, who has worked on every Radiohead album since OK Computer. They're even recycling bits and bobs of old songs that never made the permanent Radiohead roster, like Skrrting on the Surface, which has roots going back to the bands {In Rainbows } era, as well as Yorke's Atoms for Peace side project.

Here, on Skrting on the Surface, these recovered tidbits are served as an ambient moment—as much a mood as a song. Greenwood's jazz guitar arpeggios dress things up while soft brass fades in and out and Yorke vocalizes like flotsam drifting through the ether. In other words, the song plays it cool: a good simmer that doesn't need to overdo it as a full-on boil. Open the Floodgates started as a Radiohead track back in 2006, when it was known as Porous, and was also revived for live gigs with Atoms for Peace. It sure sounds like a frustrated commentary on concert fans: "Don't bore us/ Get to the chorus/ And open the floodgates/ We want the good bits/ Without your bullshit." (Pretty perfect for a band named after the Ted Hughes poem "The Smile," with its ominous warning about hungry fakers consuming purity.)

Joining the band is jazz drummer Tom Skinner, also of Sons of Kemet, who lays down a busy, jittery rhythm that matches the oddly charming funk-to-post-punk-siren path of The Opposite. The drums pace like a caged tiger on the big, festival-ready You Will Never Work in Television Again, and it's a wow moment to hear Yorke singing like he's in the Wipers or Mission of Burma. He hits his famed upper register on Pana-vision, a moody, fog-at-the-seaside piano track with strings conducted by Hugh Brunt, who has worked with both Radiohead and Greenwood on his film scores. Thin Thing thrives on math-rock tension. Speech Bubbles is a graceful, if morose crawl. The Same delivers great washes of uneasy noise. Waving a White Flag brainwashes with sterile, spacey synth followed by drawling strings, like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. And Free in the Knowledge, with its catchy vocal melody, could be Radiohead circa The Bends.

LISTEN TO 'A LIGHT FOR ATTRACTING ATTENTION' BY THE SMILE NOW ON QOBUZ

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