The Smile: Wall Of Eyes [Album Review]

The Smile
Wall Of Eyes
XL Recordings [2024]

Album Overview: While their first album, A Light For Attracting Attention, could have been a one-and-done, The Smile returns! Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood, and Tom Skinner have assembled once more with the follow-up, Wall of Eyes. Wall of Eyes takes a different approach with longer, more dynamic song setups and a trimming of the fat. A Light For Attracting Attention could have been a leaner, more direct album if it didn’t include songs like “Waving a White Flag” and “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings.” This album keeps it to eight tracks with an average of 5 minutes, keeping things fresh by creating ideas that shift into other ideas all in the same song.

Musical Style: It should feel like an album that meets certain expectations and standards when you have two members of Radiohead in the group. That’s part of the beauty of The Smile; it allows Johnny and Thom to buck those notions and create freely. Now, is this album anxiety in musical form? Is it orchestral, beautiful moments from all past Smile and Radiohead albums? Is this album about the riffs? The answers are all yes. They’ve learned from their first, and that’s what’s supposed to happen.

Evolution of Sound: In the previous blurb, I called the album a riff record. To elaborate more, this album is a psychedelic-escape riff record. I haven’t mentioned him too much yet, but I do believe that Tom Skinner is the album’s secret weapon. A Light For Attracting Attention and the band Sons of Kemet made it known that Tom was a true talent. Wall of Eyes is Skinner unleashed. The drumming feels effortlessly tactile and improvised yet regimented to carry the songs at the same time. It’s a feeling that I didn’t get from the previous album, but it’s much more noticeable here. Thom and Johnny continue to create audible wonder, and even though we’ve experienced it before, I don’t think it’s a feeling that music fans can tire of.

Artists with Similar Fire: The Smile, no doubt, has DNA from all of Yorke’s influences, very much his solo projects and Radiohead. Greenwood, I’m sure, helped with the orchestral arrangements on the album. One thing I picked out more and more as I listened to the album is some sonic leanings towards Grizzly Bear too. The album continues to be airy and eerie, which is the best thing to expect.

Pivotal Tracks: When “Bending Hectic” was first released, I knew we had something great on our hands. The longest track on the album, “Bending Hectic,” twinkles and glimmers up until it doesn’t. The cathartic release of hellfire and brimstone guitars smash the track to pieces at the end. It’s the surprising full stop of aggression that the album needs. “Under Our Pillows” brings memories of “Thin Thing” with abrupt pinprick guitar and Skinner’s effortless driving beats. I also feel like we can say that this is a rare moment where we see a Smile song cruise. The cruise motif also shows up near the end of “Read the Room” too. “Teleharmonic” pulses in and out with driving bass, beautiful arrangements of keys, and fluttering flute.

Lyrical Strength: The lyrics aren’t anything new for Yorke and Co. so if you listened to anything he’s touched in the past then you know what you’re in for. It isn’t all doom and gloom dystopia but if you needed another reminder of what anxiety in musical form sounds like, look no further than The Smile. It isn’t super heady, it isn’t super pretentious. It’s The Smile and the album is called Wall of Eyes. Just like Yorke has written many “1984 the album” this is that and I’m not mad. Just happy we got another album from The Smile.

A Light For Attracting Attention (2022)

Philip Selway: Strange Dance (2023) / Kid A Mnesia (2021) / A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) / Thom Yorke: Anima (2019)Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014) / EOB: Earth (2020)

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Christopher Tahy
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