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Review: ‘Wall Of Eyes’ cements The Smile as more than just a side project

Courtesy XL Recordings

By Jacob Pellegrino     1/30/24 10:31pm

Review: ★★★★★

Top Track: ‘Wall Of Eyes’

The Smile is a group composed of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, and Tom Skinner of jazz group Sons of Kemet. More than just a side project, The Smile has been a venue for some of Yorke and Greenwood’s most vital music in years, filling in the gaps since Radiohead’s most recent album was released in 2016. The band originally formed during COVID-19, allowing the musicians to continue recording new music and utilizing Greenwood’s fresh ideas, even when the other members of their band were unavailable. “Wall of Eyes” is The Smile’s sophomore album, following the acclaim of their debut and solidifying the group as a musical entity — not just a one-off.

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, made famous by The Beatles, The Smile does not cave to external influences on their album, creating something singular. When asked about his lyrical process in an interview with New Musical Express, Yorke likened himself to “a really bad sculptor who doesn’t really know what they’re doing.” Much of what the band does is crafted and honed in the studio, melding together the trio’s creative influences. 

“I turn up with a bunch of phone recordings; doodles that are not even edited or formed and are fairly shapeless,” Yorke told NME. “We put them into shape then this thing appears that has this momentum.”

The album begins with the title track, “Wall Of Eyes,” an otherworldly song with loose lyrics that leave room for listener interpretation. “Wall Of Eyes” opens with a simple, upbeat guitar part and low percussion that carries on throughout the whole track, giving it a sense of momentum. Yorke’s dreamlike vocals put the music into another realm and are contrasted by a lower voice counting “One, two, three, four, five” for much of the track. There’s a heavy sense of dimensionality in the track, and the album as a whole, with a full, layered sound that leaves more to hear and notice on repeat listens. The song’s main image of a “wall of eyes” evokes the idea of caving to public perception, becoming “hollow” and losing personality as the subject of the song “change[s] to black and white.”

“Read The Room” is another highlight from the album, which consists of a faster alternating instrumental that seems to loop around the listener. Paired with more aggressive and jagged vocals in the verses, the track locks into a tense groove, broken by a sudden change into a smooth, almost ballroom-like vocal chorus over sparse instrumentation. The switches between tension and release create an engaging listen, with a nice instrumental interlude thrown in for good measure.

Right after “Read The Room,” The Smile emphasizes their range with a funk groove on “Under Our Pillows.” Another great example of the loose, associative lyricism throughout the album, this track focuses on dreams and giving in to sleep. With an incredibly satisfying breakdown, the song itself seems to drift away, mirroring its lyrical themes as Yorke’s vocals become more psychedelic and the song moves on without him, eventually becoming subsumed by digital noise.

“I Quit” is another track filled with lush layers and strong contrast. The basis of the song is a glitchy guitar part, complemented by a smooth and soft vocal performance from Yorke. As the title would lead the listener to believe, “I Quit” is about “the end of the trip,” a final ending place and stopping point. The Smile makes use of remarkably few words throughout this over five minute piece, using Yorke’s voice like an instrument and creating music to lose yourself in.

In his interview with NME, Yorke said recording with The Smile was “the most fun [he’s] had in a long time.” The group’s creative energy and chemistry is clear throughout the album. “Wall Of Eyes” is an invigorating listen that paints images through richly layered sounds and loose, evocative lyricism.

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