The Smile – Wall of Eyes

The second studio album from The Smile – Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner – is a kaleidoscopic, mind-altering pronouncement

Album Review by Rhys Morgan | 22 Jan 2024
  • The Smile – Wall of Eyes
Album title: Wall of Eyes
Artist: The Smile
Label: XL Recordings
Release date: 26 Jan

The second studio album from The Smile, Wall of Eyes is a kaleidoscopic, mind-altering pronouncement: The Smile are not a band of their component parts, not echoes of their previous ventures. They are something exciting, ambitious, and genuinely brilliant; a sentiment delivered so resoundingly by their work here that it will leave your ears ringing. 

The towering 13-song tracklist of their debut has been punched-up for eight lusher, longer, suite-like tracks, each with its own sense of movement, progress, and scope. And, while the heavier Jonny Greenwood guitars have been somewhat cast aside, there is still fun to be had. Read the Room – its guitar bobbing axially to-and-fro – and Under Our Pillows are the most recognisable in sound here, the latter bringing Side A to a close in a haunting crescendo of unsettling strings (spoiler alert: there’s a second use of this later that blows a hole through the wall, and it’s brilliant). These strings – provided by the brilliant London Contemporary Orchestra – are a recurring star on the album that almost feel like framing devices; hazard signs that we're about to sonically shapeshift, or veer left somewhere into the unknown. 

From the acoustic to the electronic, Wall of Eyes is texturally alive. Teleharmonic, previewed initially during Peaky Blinders' sixth season, is a compositional marvel: Tom Skinner’s drums bubble and scatter, present over every inch of the mix. The synths are fit to bask in, warm and orange. And Thom Yorke, curious yet distant, remains ambiguous: 'Will I wake in the morning? I don’t know,' he starts, eventually finishing as an audience proxy: 'Where are you taking me?' 

There is no let-up of momentum on Side B. Friend of a Friend, while somewhat unassuming, brilliantly exists in its simplicity: bass, piano and a jazz drumline are joined by subtle brass and cascading and rippling vocal effects. 'I guess I believe in an altered state,' sings Yorke, once again situating himself from a perspective outside the lyrical narrative to comment on the very music we're listening to. Bending Hectic, the album’s first single proper, stands particularly tall here. An odyssey that pushes through lilting shoegaze, Sade-esque soul and yet somehow still manages to bequeath Greenwood an absolute monster of a solo introduced in a final two minutes that are truly mind-blowing; a development of the hook so brilliant it could singe your eyebrows.

Listen to: Teleharmonic, Under Our Pillows, Friend of a Friend, Bending Hectic