Album Review: Wall of Eyes – The Smile’s Enigmatic Continuation of Artistic Brilliance

Wall of Eyes, the sophomore album from The Smile, emerges as a uniquely brilliant proposition in the contemporary music landscape. The band, comprising Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame, along with the jazz-infused rhythmic skills of former Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, has carved a niche that, while bearing resemblances to the Radiohead sound, stands distinct in its musical exploration and thematic depth.

This album, arriving after an extensive world tour in 2023, carries forward the band’s live energy and creative freedom, which had already set a high bar. The Smile’s evolution from their debut album, A Light for Attracting Attention, is evident, as they continue to navigate the delicate balance between the familiar Radiohead sound and their distinct musical identity. Yorke’s voice remains as warm and comforting as ever, effortlessly bridging this gap, making Wall of Eyes a welcoming yet novel experience for fans.

Musically, Wall of Eyes traverses a landscape rich in diversity and intricacy. The track Under Our Pillows displays a complex interplay of Greenwood’s intricate guitar lines and Skinner’s jazz-influenced drumming, setting an eclectic tone for the album. Yorke’s voice shines particularly bright on Bending Hectic, an eight-minute journey from fragmented beginnings to a climactic crescendo of distorted guitars, reminiscent of Radiohead’s The Bends era.

The album’s title track and Read the Room showcase The Smile’s mastery of foreboding slow jams and Greenwood-led epics. Meanwhile, the closer You Know Me! reveals a stark and sparse beauty, highlighting the album’s range and depth. This unrestricted feel of the album serves as its binding force. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Wall of Eyes presents a new medium for the trio to continue their familiar yet ever-evolving musical path.

For Yorke and Greenwood, The Smile appears to be a project marked by a sense of creative liberation. This lack of pressure, in contrast to the high stakes of releasing a Radiohead album, is palpable throughout Wall of Eyes. The trio’s eagerness to continue making music together under this new banner is a spellbinding treat for fans, showcasing their unceasing passion and creativity.

The album’s production is a testament to the trio’s artistic chemistry and skill. The meticulous attention to detail in every aspect, from the layered instrumentation to the nuanced production choices, creates a soundscape that is both rich and immersive. The blending of electronic elements with traditional instrumentation gives Wall of Eyes a unique texture that is both modern and timeless.

Lyrically, Wall of Eyes reflects the band’s introspective and existential tendencies. Yorke’s writing, known for its depth and poetic quality, explores themes of existential angst, personal transformation, and societal observations. His ability to convey complex emotions through cryptic yet compelling lyrics adds a profound layer to the album, inviting listeners to delve into a deeper level of interpretation and understanding.

The Smile’s ability to create music that is both innovative and introspective is further exemplified in tracks like Infinite Loop of Discontent and Echoes of Silence. These songs delve into the human condition, exploring the cyclical nature of existence and the often-overwhelming silence that accompanies introspection. The band’s use of dynamic shifts in these tracks adds to the emotional impact, with crescendos and decrescendos effectively conveying the highs and lows of the human experience.

Another notable aspect of Wall of Eyes is its cohesiveness. Despite the diversity in musical styles and themes, the album flows seamlessly from one track to the next. This cohesiveness is a testament to The Smile’s songwriting and arranging prowess, as they craft an album that is diverse yet unified in its vision and execution.

The Smile also experiments with various musical forms and structures throughout the album. Songs like The Dance of the Lost and Whispers in the Wind break conventional song structures, incorporating elements of progressive rock and avant-garde music. This willingness to experiment and push musical boundaries further distinguishes Wall of Eyes from other contemporary works.

In addition to their musical experimentation, The Smile continues to push lyrical boundaries. The band’s exploration of societal themes in songs like Modern Echoes and The Quiet Scream showcases their ability to comment on contemporary issues through their music. These tracks delve into topics such as the digital age’s impact on society and the often-unheard cries for change, making Wall of Eyes a reflective and thought-provoking listen.

Moreover, the album’s instrumental tracks, such as Shadows and Light and Reverie in Motion, provide a sonic exploration that complements the more lyrically driven songs. These instrumentals showcase the band’s ability to communicate emotions and narratives without words, relying solely on their instrumental prowess.

In conclusion, Wall of Eyes by The Smile is more than just a follow-up album; it is a continuation and evolution of the artistic brilliance that the trio has consistently demonstrated. The album is a complex tapestry of sounds and emotions, weaving together intricate guitar work, jazz-infused drumming, and distinct vocal delivery. It is a musical journey that encapsulates the trio’s ability to push boundaries while staying true to their roots, making Wall of Eyes a spellbinding treat for fans of The Smile and Radiohead alike.

James Ewen
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