Where do you begin with a band like The Smile?
They’re two-thirds Radiohead, one of the most sonically diverse and boundary-pushing bands of the last thirty years. The Smile trio is complete with the addition of Tom Skinner, jazz drummer extraordinaire: as we know from their 2022 debut A Light For Attracting Attention. The Smile are a collective of some of the most talented musicians going. They’re like musical Galacticos: 00’s Real Madrid with guitars, and their second offering is technically beautiful and sonically intriguing.
The debut set the pattern for the band, showcasing their experimental and avant-garde tendencies through twisting electronic and jazzy numbers with occasional flashes of the band stretching their rock muscles.
Wall of Eyes is similar in its DNA, albeit with the band giving themselves more room to explore these ideas further. The opener and title track ‘Wall of Eyes’ is a strong blueprint for The Smile as a whole: the cut has distinct Radiohead fingerprints all over it, sounding in part like a number from Hail To The Thief. There are fantastic moments throughout, where the intensity of the track rises and falls. It’s almost anxiety-inducing in how it swells and faulters, with the band timing each increased period of intensity with a deft touch.
‘Teleharmonic’ is a signature Yorke composition, with atmospheric synth components which bring to mind his 2019 Anima project. It’s soft and intimate, with Yorke barely whispering his lines, to superb effect. ‘Read The Room’ is another highlight, frenetic guitar part blending beautifully with Skinner’s angular percussion. The track is layered with guitar and electronic noise and Yorke’s delivery throughout ‘Read The Room’ is just superb; spitting his words at odds with the off beat rhythm, before launching into gorgeous harmonies and soaring vocals.
‘Under Our Pillows’ follows with similar effect: the combination of Greenwood’s guitar work and Skinner’s drums give the cuts a swing which is unrivalled. There is not a gram of fat or an ounce of overplaying here, this record is phenomenal throughout, like a marathon runner trying to break the two-hour mark.
‘I Quit’ is more Anima or Kid A style electronica, this time with strings blended into the mix to give the song the qualities of a Bond theme. The contrast between the song’s cold electronica and swelling, harmonic strings is something to behold: a ballet of contradictions that only a group like The Smile, packed with such musicality, could pull off.
The penultimate track, ‘Bending Hectic’ is a serious contender for the best single released in 2023, and is the high water mark on Wall of Eyes. Yorke croons about driving through the Italian mountainside, evoking images of the opening scenes of The Italian Job. You can imagine the protagonist motoring through the Alps in something classy and convertible – an E Type Jag, perhaps – before losing control.
The strings play a huge part in making ‘Bending Hectic’ what it is. Yorke sings about going “over the edge” and how the “ground is coming for me now”, while the off-beat drums rumble and the strings swell to a cacophony of anxiety. Before you know it, we hit the ground hard and Greenwood’s guitar crashes in at an unholy volume. Drums thunder behind a filthy solo, drenched in feedback and fuzz. You can feel your own face colliding with the steering column in the shape of some utterly inspired guitar work – it seriously does not get better than this.