Wall of Eyes by The Smile is an improvement on everything that made their debut one of the best albums of 2022, and a wonderful sign for how incredible this new era of music can become.

Release date: January 26, 2024 | XL Recordings | Website | Bandcamp

You already know what the fuck’s going on. Thom Yorke. Jonny Greenwood. Tom Skinner. The legends are back with Wall of Eyes, the second album from The Smile after their debut a year and a half ago. A Light for Attracting Attention set an incredibly high baseline for what The Smile could sound like as by far the best side project that had come from Radiohead – and Wall of Eyes one ups it in every aspect.

If there are better combos in the history of music than Thom and Jonny, there aren’t many. They haven’t lost anything in their decades doing this and just seem to pick up new sounds and styles at whim. Making something like “Teleharmonic” when you’re pushing 60 should be illegal.

At times it sounds like a slowed down electro-pop track, with some trippy synths, and one of my favorite vocal performances Thom has ever given. The first two verses are so warm and inviting as he’s just riding this smooth ass beat, the delivery on the frequently repeated ‘where are you taking me?’ really stick with you, and the song ramps up to perfection when Skinner’s drumming comes in on the chorus. It’s a tough call which half of the track is better but it’s a masterpiece regardless. I don’t know how they can still just do shit like this.

‘Whining drones
On a cold sea
Ramming down doors
Piling in
Caught in dragnets
By fishermen
Payback, payback
Where are you taking me?
Where are you taking me?’

For only eight tracks Wall of Eyes is a long album. A Light for Attracting Attention is only eight minutes longer despite having five more tracks and only one track clocks in under five minutes, but The Smile manage to make every single second count. “Read the Room” is one of the best math-rock songs you’ll hear this year, has one of the absolute best Thom hooks in a long time, plus it helps show why Thom is one of the catchiest writers history, and why he’s been so captivating for generations. ‘Who knows what it wants from me?/ This goes where it wants to be/ Honey for the honey bee/ But I am gonna count to three/ Keep this shit away from me.’ Jonny is absolutely going nuts on the track and the instrumental shift as the track closes is fucking incredible. The shortest track on the album, “Friend of a Friend”, is also the simplest but it still works incredibly well. It’s a bit more uptempo than something from A Moon Shaped Pool, with some gorgeous piano playing anchoring the beat.

Thom is more comfortable on Wall of Eyes, but the most noticeable increase in the quality is in the production. Some moments on A Light for Attracting Attention, while definitely a change of pace, were a little too similar at times to Radiohead’s work in the 2010s, and while that sound is still present it’s certainly developed more.

The title track beginning the album starts you off with some simple and immediately captivating acoustic guitar, before the strings from hell come in and give the track a ‘bad trip’ vibe and increasingly grows more and more uncomfortable as the track picks up steam. “Under Our Pillows” features Jonny going absolutely fucking nuts from the very second the track starts, and has some of Skinner’s best drumming to match. It gets even better as the track slows down and Thom delivers a killer outro. The eight minute long winding “Bending Hectic” has more batshit playing from Jonny and the tracks depiction of a car crash perfectly match the hectic and chaotic instrumental.

I’m not going to say that I’d be happy if there’s not going to be another Radiohead album again (A Moon Shaped Pool came out in 2016, way back when Frank Ocean still made music), they’re just too special of a band, but the quality of music that The Smile have made show they’re far more than just another side gig. Wall of Eyes being an improvement in almost all aspects from their debut separates The Smile from Atoms for Peace, and frankly most secondary projects from most bands, and proves that this can be a band that lasts for a time and won’t just be discarded. Clearly no one is running out of ideas creatively, so whether it’s continuing to establish The Smile as one of the better rock acts out, solo work, or the big number ten, I’ll be locked in and waiting for it.

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