The Smile – Free In the Knowledge

Today, Radiohead side-project The Smile finally announced tangible details of their upcoming album, entitled A Light For Attracting Attention, coming May 13th. With it, they released a new single: “Free In Knowledge.”

For anyone who’s struggled to see where Radiohead ends and The Smile begins, the track isn’t going to bring too much clarity. After all, lead vocalist Thom Yorke and guitarist/pianist/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood have been the primary agents in Radiohead’s creative direction for the better part of their career, alongside producer Nigel Godrich—who is on production duties for The Smile, offering one of his trademark string arrangements here. The fact that they are joined by Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner instead of the rest of Radiohead doesn’t seem to have changed much in the methodology of the duo (or trio, if we’re counting Godrich).

And speaking as a Radiohead fan, that’s great news. The previous singles from The Smile have demonstrated the same skittering, manic energy that marked Radiohead’s earlier, less orchestrated works, but with the added maturity that comes from three decades of making music together.

“Free In the Knowledge” is definitely another facet of the project, pulling back the hyperactive jazz drums and angular electric guitar in favor of a delicate acoustic, electric piano, and wash of strings. Yorke waxes fatalistic in his unmistakable tenor: “Free in the knowledge that one day this will end. Free in the knowledge that everything is change.” The lyrics ride the line between hopeless and romantic, painting clear feelings about vague pictures. There are references to soldiers on our backs and discussions with his reflection, all ending with an invocation to an unspoken second party, “turns out we’re in this together, both me and you.”

The song is free of any percussion until the drum kit enters at the three-minute mark, tapping a restrained beat that nevertheless adds a sudden urgency to the track. The weightless strings gain some heft and follow the pace set by the drums until the conclusion.

My expectations for the album were already sky-high: this is already the fifth track released from the upcoming full length, and it’s once more widened the scope of what The Smile will be offering.

A Light For Attracting Attention will be released May 13th on XL Recordings.

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