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Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood explore challenging rhythms in new The Smile outing

As the chief songwriters in Radiohead, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have a history of making brilliantly unconventional musical choices. From spooky modal harmonies to unorthodox instrumentation, their music is daringly experimental. 

The same goes for the music they're writing as The Smile, a new project with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. The trio have been touring following the release of their debut album, A Light for Attracting Attention, and a pit stop at Primavera Sound festival this month saw them debut two new songs.

Both Bodies Laughing and Colours Fly see Thom and Jonny exploring downcast, Krautrock-adjacent grooves that aren't dissimilar to their later work in Radiohead. However, the newly stripped-back line-up brings a satisfyingly minimalist flavour to the songs' arrangements (though Thom's use of Ed O'Brien's signature Fender Stratocaster on Bodies Laughing is a touching nod to their absent bandmates) and serves to emphasise some of their more unconventional musical elements. 

This is most notable on the highlight of the pair, Colours Fly. Following a typically ominous intro, in which Thom runs his baritone vocals through a delay pedal, the band launch into a relentlessly off-kilter 5/4 groove that doesn't let up for the entirety of the song's duration. This isn't the first time Thom and Jonny have experimented with 5/4 time - Radiohead's 2008 classic 15 Step is an enduring masterclass in how to rock out in an odd meter.

Despite the unusual time signature, the groove in 15 Step is pretty easy to follow, but the same can't be said for Colours Fly's hypnotic refrain. That's thanks to Tom Skinner's approach behind the kit, as the drummer throws off the listener's perception of the song's downbeat by beginning each bar with a hit of the snare, only following with the expected kick drum a quaver later on the off-beat.

This is a rhythmic trick that Thom and Jonny have used before, in Radiohead's Videotape. The central piano part in that song begins by implying a downbeat that's in conflict with the pulse implied by the track's other elements, in a similar fashion to Colours Fly. This hidden syncopation creates a kind of rhythmic illusion, throwing off the listener's perception of the song's groove and contributing to the delicious sense of uncertainty that makes Radiohead's - and The Smile's - music so great.

The Smile's A Light for Attracting Attention is out now on XL Recordings.  (opens in new tab)

Matt Mullen
Matt Mullen

I'm the Tech Features Editor for MusicRadar, working on everything from artist interviews to tech tutorials. I've been writing about (and making) electronic music for over a decade, and when I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard or a synthesizer.