Wall of Eyes

by The Smile

Let’s say you’ve been together for a number of years now. You know each other inside and out, and are genuinely comfortable in each other’s company. You start to get an urge, that there may well be more to life, outside of this, maybe – maybe with someone else. So what do you do?

It’s a common enough scenario, and sometimes it’s just best to go off and do your own thing and get it out of your system, and it's so easy to do – if you’re in a band that is.

For years now bands that have made it have gone off to have their spin-off projects, which are usually less successful: so for every Genesis there’s a Mike and the Mechanics, or Arctic Monkeys and The Last Shadow Puppets. And Radiohead are no different.

boom - The smile wall of eyes

Front man Thom Yorke has not only done some solo stuff, but has also been a member of Atoms for Peace. This time he’s brought fellow Radiohead-er Jonny Greenwood to form The Smile. And this is their second album.

First up in the limelight is the eponymous album track ‘Wall of Eyes’. It’s a slow opener, with Yorke lyrically in almost whisper mode, mostly accompanied by an unassuming guitar riff. It’s dream-like, gentle quality, is reminiscent of a lullaby if done by Radiohead, lightened by some pleasing violins mid way through.

Yorke is in no mood to strain his vocals still with ‘Teleharmonic’. And although there’s a stillness to them, they still end up being the most prominent sound, with a production that is stripped fairly bare. It’s the kind of track you might find yourself nodding off too, so if you’re an insomniac, it might be worth considering a purchase for that alone.

Just from the intro of ‘Read the Room’ you already know you’re in for something a little more spiky. Everything is already a little bit louder, and Yorke is bolder in the vocals, with some pleasantly scratchy guitars, as well as a defined bass. It balloons occasionally, with a certain majesty, before another calm rolls in. Time for a guitar solo, and then some more depth to the orchestration, with feint echoes of Radiohead past.

boom reviews The smile wall of eyes

There are signs of more life with ‘Under our Pillows’ with a little more energy in the room. Yorke still isn’t prepared to commit fully, but that’s OK, it’s a side hustle after all. Just when things were looking up, the track almost draws to a halt halfway through, before building up, slowly but surely, as if a storm is in the air, an atmospheric change, leading to...another lull, which stretches over the horizon, drifting off into the distance that arrives at its final destination, a wash in a musical rainbow.

Sometimes you just need a hug from a bass to feel better. And that’s what you get with ‘Friend of a Friend’ with its Charlie Brown vibe, as he heads out with Snoopy for a little fun. A gentle piano helps with the playful nature of it all, with just a hint of something more sombre from the strings. But before you know it, we’re back on that playful road, with Snoopy by our side. But what’s that up ahead? Phew, that was close. Home now, safe and sound.

‘I Quit’ finds Yorke in whaling, haunting mode once again, with another song that doesn’t really go anywhere for its first half, just quietly setting a scene – hopefully. More strings, a little too floaty this time, feeling yet again a mix of part dreamy/part dreary, depending on what kind of mood you are in. It leaves very much as it arrived, in a very understated fashion.

Put your feet up kids, as you’re in for something with ‘Bending Hectic’; you know that because it’s just over eight minutes long. Yorke’s voice is once again hesitant to get itself out of bed, floating as it does in the air, like a sad faced balloon that’s lost some of its helium. It bobs ever so slightly, but not enough to notice. Or care. Joined by a guitar that sounds as if it’s being tuned throughout, not quite sure what noise to make. And then – pop! - it finally explodes with a dirty energy, coming out of nowhere. It’s a sound we’ve yet to hear, and is alarming at first, as it feels as if it’s all consuming.

boom reviews The smile wall of eyes

It would have been the perfect finale, but The Smile aren’t done just yet, with one more track up their sleeve. ‘You Know Me!’ sees Yorke an octave or two higher, but not louder, with a simple piano movement by his side. And very little else, bar the lightest sprinkling of percussion. It’s a wave that doesn’t falter, before flattening to a calming end.

It’s accurate to describe this second outing for The Smile as Radiohead-lite. What else would you expect with two of its members involved, only joined by Tom Skinner on drums and percussion.

It’s a project bereft of Radiohead’s now trademark wall of electronica, giving it a more bare-boned organic feel, with most of the tracks sparsely produced. So in that sense, it’s a little on the loose side.

This makes it the perfect side project material; it’s not one you will reach out for on a regular basis, but if you want a little background music, to impress some boring folk you have round for dinner say, then this is likely to provide the perfect soundtrack.

And like most side projects, this is supposed to be personal, and by no means commercial, an outlet to produce a creativity not suited to the main band, but just offer enough to appease your hardcore, corduroy wearing crowd as you allow your musical heroes to indulge their egos.

Wall of Eyes is a soundtrack to a film that you don’t necessarily want to see, starring no-one you particularly like, that will play for two nights in an art-house cinema that will charge you the price of a staycation holiday for two in the Lake District for the privilege. And for that reason, you’ll probably just leave it ‘til it turns up on some streaming service, and watch it to say, well, that you’ve done just that. And that will be enough.

three out of five