sat 15/06/2024

Album: The Smile - Wall of Eyes | reviews, news & interviews

Album: The Smile - Wall of Eyes

Album: The Smile - Wall of Eyes

Stunning second album liberates the trio from Radiohead's shadow

Thom Yorke: "The ground is coming for me now/We've gone over the edge"XL Recordings

Since The Smile drummer Tom Skinner’s bandmates Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are two-fifths of Radiohead, the trio is often designated a “side project”, or satellite, as if its music pales beside the mothership’s. On the strength of its second album, that’s an absurd, not to mention insulting notion.

A Radiohead-trip in spirit, Wall of Eyes’ deceptively airy post-punk, electronica, and jazz melange might prove rock's ne plus ultra in 2024. Its title redolent of Big Brother and pernicious social media, the album follows 2022's A Light for Attracting Attention and most of Radiohead’s output in shrouding Yorke’s vision of existential dread and paranoia in songs of intricate beauty. 

If the main common denominator is his falsetto keening, there’s continuity, too, in the way Sam Petts-Davies’s production introduces eerie sonic stratas, such as gravelly static (the title track), machine noise ("I Quit"), or hissing ("Under Our Pillows"). A flute plaintively gilds "Teleharmonic". There's familiar play with distortive time signatures. Some of the eight songs are reignited midway by Skinner’s motorik (4/4) beats – which on “Under Our Pillows” presage an ethereally psychedelic finale – or are washed by the massed strings of the London Contemporary Orchestra. 

In contrast, “Read the Room” is a careering rocker, its tone set by Greenwood's angsty chords, and a bitter warning from Yorke in his deeper voice that he’s had it with the industry’s profit motive (“You know it takes away/It takes the fun out/Maybe I can’t, maybe I can’t be arsed/This crashing currency”). Settling down, the guitarist pumps the song to a danceable close while the singer bays from another room.

When Yorke was asked if the Beatles influenced the album because it was recorded partially at Abbey Road, he said the agreement was “Let’s not do that, eh?” But maybe the ghosts crept in. In each of the quasi-narrative numbers "Bending Hectic" and "Friend of a Friend” – McCartneyesque in its vocals and summery cadences, if not in its sentiment – the strings build to a screaming crescendo like “A Day in the Life”’s.

The one in “Bending Hectic” is the sound of something plummeting. Tentatively picked forward by Greenwood, this eight-minute epic finds Yorke’s narrator driving the hairpin bends above an Italian mountain pass and, rather than let anyone “bring him down", letting go of the wheel. Despite his misery, he forces the car to turn at the last...but too late? Greenwood’s searing riff and cacophonous feedback let us know “an airbag” is useless here, that we’re no longer “standing on the edge”. But the music militates against the horror and the album's general foreboding.

Its deceptively airy post-punk, electronica, and jazz melange might prove rock's ne plus ultra in 2024

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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