There is something particularly special about Radiohead and their ability to paint a picture with a song. Radiohead fans know the band to have an eccentric, unique sound that typically inspires deep thinking and feeling. Their songs are never just about a catchy chorus and verse, but more about the experience listening to the song.
The Smile, a Radiohead offshoot formed by singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood, is no different. Their new album with drummer Tom Skinner gives Radiohead fans the same joyous feeling they got from albums like “Ok Computer” and “Kid A” with a new explosive yet skeletal sound in “Wall of Eyes.”
The opening title-track “Wall of Eyes” illuminates the warm and soothing vocals from Yorke. The song is scattered, yet organized; anxious, yet reserved. Yorke hums impatiently under the lyrics, “Is that still you? Two hollow eyes change black and white. So strap yourself in…”
The track sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly, but doesn’t quite unveil all the secrets the band has in store later in the album.
“Teleharmonic” is dreamy and soulful, leaving listeners in a daze. Yorke’s vocals yearningly call out for more while Skinner provides a subtle but meaningful beat to set the scene. It’s a great contrast to “Read the Room,” which feels edgy and neurotic.
About halfway through the song, Yorke sings hauntingly while Greenwood plays some more hard-hitting notes to create the perfect rich and dynamic sound. “Read the Room” is perfectly described in the title of the track, with lyrics like “these massive egos,” to provide just enough edge.
“Read the Room” kind of bleeds into “Under Our Pillows” with the same kind of edge, yet this time a bit of a more poignant sound. The song begins to strip down to its base about half way through and allows listeners to fully feel the music.
As the final lyrics of the song play out, there is still a full two-and-a-half minutes of airy instrumentals. The song as a whole feels like a mist falling over you in an almost unsettling way. The end of the song plays out with some off-tune electronic noises and whistles, bringing fans back to the unconventional ways of “Kid A,” Radiohead’s fourth studio album.
“Friend of a Friend” comes next with a jazzy and calming sound. The intensity fades in this song, allowing listeners to take a deep breath and hear Yorke describe what it feels like to be a “people pleaser.” However, leave it to composer Greenwood to turn up the intensity one more time towards the end of the song, with a big harmonious buildup and cutoff.
“I Quit” is somewhat of a synth jazz lullaby that sounds like longing and fading into the abyss. The song compliments the rest of the album by allowing calmness to compensate for the chaos in other areas of the album.
“Wall of Eyes” hits its peak, emotionally and instrumentally, in “Bending Hectic,” the eight-minute roller coaster of feelings and sounds. The song is hard-hitting and crucial to the album. It begins in a calm and dreary state, with offbeat quiet drumming in the background and vocals that very well may send someone into a daydream.
Yorke picks up the lyrics and builds suspense, but doesn’t give it all up until after the song is more than halfway over. About two-thirds of the way into the song, it takes a turn into an eerie, tense, horror-movie-esque transition that’s gut-wrenching and exciting.
The drop into the final verse starts a section of punchy and complex guitar riffs and tense vocals, painting a picture of slaying the dragon or defeating the final boss. It’s similar to “Exit Music (For a Film)” from “Ok Computer” in the sense that the build-up and resolution is extraordinary and leaves listeners feeling like they were sent out on a journey and returned with battle scars.
The perfect send-off to such a dynamic album, “Wall of Eyes” wraps up with “You Know Me!” The vocals are wispy and elegant. The piano is just soft enough and allows the song to flow off into the distance. It’s melodic and gentle, vivid enough to be cohesive with the rest of the album, but also grants fulfillment and contentment.
“Wall of Eyes” proves that The Smile is here to stay. The band’s likeness to Radiohead is obvious, but this new broken-down, transparent sound from Yorke, Greenwood and Skinner is what will introduce the genius musicians to new generations.
The band’s 2022 album, “A Light For Attracting Attention” gave the same kind of Radiohead sound, but “Wall of Eyes” grants the band a little bit of a new independence. The album serves as a great turning point and will allow new listeners to connect to their music in a new kind of way.