Godsticks on The Smile: Why I Love

Meta Hammer has termed Godsticks “one of the UK’s most idiosyncratic rock bands.” Their latest album, This Is What A Winner Looks Like on Kscope typifies their sharply observed lyrics with a Progressive-Alternative-Heavy hybrid.

Just as Godsticks are about to head off on a four-date tour of the UK (Cardiff – London – Newcastle – Edinburgh), main man (although he probably hates the term) Darran Charles joins us At The Barrier with a tale of how he came across the Radiohead member offshoot The Smile…

In a sense, I hate them. Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood that is. As a musician you like to think you’re creating something original, perhaps even pushing the boundaries a little, but then this pair of bastards pop along with another one of their ‘side-projects’ that just so happens to produce music equally as incredible as their main ‘project’ (i.e. the monolithic Radiohead), and far superior to any music anyone else on planet earth is producing.

Of course I’m talking about The Smile which is a recent discovery for me after a friend sent me a link to their live Tiny Desk concert.  Usually, when someone sends me something, I tend not to watch it because for some reason it feels like homework, but then one evening I was at a loose end whereby my wife had gone out with friends. As many will know this means it’s forbidden to watch anything that may also interest her (that works both ways in fairness), so I thought I’d give that concert a whirl.

From the moment Thom sat at the piano and played the intro to Pano-vision I was transfixed. But also confused. What the fuck is this? Jazz? Then in comes his distinctive falsetto and the genre-bending begins. The piano line with that falsetto vocal is just so avant-garde and imbued with tension, you wonder if they’re just being self-indulgently unpleasant, but as with any bunch of geniuses, it was all a path to an eventual glorious release of beautiful melody and instrumentation right at the point when the rest of the band kicks in.

Then I’m hit by this hypnotic – where-does-the-loop-begin-and-end – reggae bassline that at first feels like cultural appropriation but then gives way to the obligatory left-field twist with falsetto, spacious vocals and a bridge that is so contrastingly beautiful you have to wonder how on earth they managed to juxtapose these two sections so seamlessly.

Thin Thing is so good, so unique, so musical, so innovative; it actually irritates me in a sense. Looking at Johnny’s hands it doesn’t quite correspond to what I’m hearing but that’s because the clever bastard is using a delay pedal to help produce a mesmerising, undulating sonic foundation for Thom to lay down his melodies. Midway through, the other guitar and bass genius Mr. Yorke, introduces a bass part in an almost piecemeal fashion, just to keep the listener on their toes. After this song finished, I remember texting a friend (a huge Radiohead fan) to ask if Johnny Greenwood received the respect and adulation he quite obviously deserves from the guitar community. “Definitely”, was his reply. You see, I grew up in the era where death-defying technical dexterity was celebrated, and not the creative aspect of devising memorable guitar parts, and I sometimes wonder if I’ve been trapped in this popular echo chamber without my knowing. On this occasion I had.

It’s always been a mystery to me why so many people like Radiohead, and that same mystery applies to The Smile’ There are no friendly melodies, no hooks, dissonant soundscapes, a flat-out refusal to provide any sort of recognisable song structure, a singer who spends most of his time singing in the same register as a Bee Gee sucking on a helium balloon, and yet have a look at Spotify – 500,000 plays per month. It makes no fucking sense! But it’s heartening to know that real art by true artists – nay geniuses – is still loved and appreciated by millions, especially given the fact that The Smile requires patience, attention, and repeated listens. To us fellow songwriters and musicians they mean so much more, and for me they are equally deserving of the title afforded to the late great Danny Gatton – ‘The Humbler’ – bestowed upon him by others on account of his incredible ability; in terms of composition, Messrs Yorke and Greenwood are true humblers themselves.

Here’s Mayhem from This Is What A Winner Looks Like:

Our huge thanks to Darran for taking the time to detail his thoughts on an intriguing project. Probably a good alternative to packing for a tour…

Godsticks online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube / Bandcamp

Godsticks images by Eleanor Jane.

You can read more from our extensive archive of Why I Love pieces from a wide array of artists on an even wider array of subjects, here.

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