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Judy G.

CD of The Week

Week of 1/29/24

    The Smile - Wall of Eyes (XL)

    Recently, fans and critics alike have posed the question – why does The Smile exist when Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood could be making essentially the same music under the Radiohead name? Is The Smile that drastically different a creative process? Is it to get out of the weight of the expectations of a new Radiohead record? Or avoid having to play “Karma Police” in concert for the 351st time? Especially since we now have two albums from The Smile in under two years. Wall of Eyes continues Thom and Jonny’s collaboration with jazz drummer Tom Skinner and is interestingly produced by Sam Petts-Davies, making it the first time Yorke has worked entirely with a producer other than Nigel Godrich since way back on The Bends.

    Wall of Eyes doesn’t stray far from the template the trio laid out on A Light for Attracting Attention in 2022 – mixing Yorke’s ethereal vocals, Skinner’s restless drumming and Greenwood’s instrumental creativity in various ways.

    The “wall of eyes” in the opening title track apparently refers to our constant digital surveillance and how being watched by computers is clearly far from OK. (“Behind a wall of eyes/Of your own device”) The trio mixes acoustic bossa nova guitar, haunted strings and unidentifiable clattering to set the tone for the record. “Read the Room” shifts and morphs with ominous guitars from Jonny, bashing drums from Skinner and an overall sense of menace throughout.

    We first heard the epic, multi-part “Bending Hectic” last year and it’s the latest in Yorke’s long line of car crash tunes, as it’s sung from the POV of the driver getting into an accident – “We're coming to a bend now/Skidding 'round the hairpin/A sheer drop down/The Italian mountainside.“ The eight-minute song swerves from swelling strings to an actual real guitar solo freakout in its conclusion. “Under Our Pillows” starts with a spiky, spidery guitar part before eventually floating away into the ether for its last 2+ minutes.

    Yorke still remains in his echoing falsetto much of the time, making it hard as usual to parse what he’s singing about. A look at the lyric sheet finds him taking COVID loan thieves to task in the piano-based “Friend of a Friend” (“All of that money, where did it go?/In somebody’s pocket, a friend of a friend”) which appears to also reference the most locked-down of times - “All the window balconies, they seem so flimsy as our friends step out to talk and wave and catch a piece of sun.” However, many of the songs found here are far more elliptical and cryptic.

    The Smile are looser and less structured in their songwriting than Radiohead even at their most proggy. Wall of Eyes sadly lacks the jolt of the two rockers from ALFAA (“You Will Never Work in Television Again” and “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings”) but it comes alive in surprising, left-field moments. While Radiohead’s members are off in their own worlds, The Smile seem content to keep beaming from behind their instruments for the foreseeable future.
    Review by Joey O.

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