The Smile Pushes Boundaries With New Album 'Wall of Eyes'

Written by Alexander Liuzzi, Photo by Frank Lebon

Radiohead members Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood formed trio The Smile with drummer Tom Skinner during the pandemic and have recently released their sophomore album Wall of Eyes. It’s a dizzying 45-minute experience that echoes much of Radiohead’s discography but while exploring something entirely new and unique. The tracks are long, averaging around five minutes and peaking at eight minutes on “Bending Hectic,” the album's most talked of track. It gives the listener an opportunity to hear longer builds and tensions with a more jazz inspired jam feel. 

Three of the songs on Wall of Eyes were released before the rest of the album and have received a lot of attention. “Bending Hectic,” the seventh track of eight, was released June of 2023. The track features a raindrop-like guitar riff by Greenwood, and while this happens, Yorke utters lyrics about an automobile from the 60’s driving through the Italian mountains. In the background, lush string swells are played by The London Contemporary Orchestra which add a sense of tension and weightlessness. All the while, Skinner’s drums float around the rest of the instrumentation and ornament the track. The climax of the song is an expansive string drop that conveys the precipice of a cataclysmic automobile event on the mountainside.  

“Friend of Friends,” the fifth and shortest track, starts with a meandering bassline reminiscent in texture to one of Paul McCartney’s. Yorke’s vocal fills some of the gaps while leaving us guessing where the beat is. When Skinner and Greenwood join, the beat is revealed, solving this musical puzzle in a way that’s similar to Radiohead’s infamous "Pyramid Song," which uses the same technique of starting without the drums and leaving the listener guessing for several measures what's happening rhythmically until it's revealed. Yorke was inspired by the reaction of the Italian people during the Covid-19 lockdowns. He explained in a live show performed in May 2022 that he was touched by how even though the government was preventing people from leaving their apartments, they found a way to connect by singing together on their balconies. The song's title is about mistrust of the government and is elaborated with the lyric, “All of that money, where did it go? In somebody’s pocket, a friend of a friend.” 

The finale track “You Know Me!” is a string-heavy sardonic ballad about someone who feels they are taken for granted. The harmony of the piano chords in the intro and the string sections at the end communicate an ambiguous unease. This couples with his lyrics by creating an uncertain tension about how he really feels or what the meaning of the lyrics really are. The swells of the orchestra lull the listener and strike a perfect balance between comforting, chordal beauty and harsh, unforgiving unease. 

The critical reception was good with many critics saying it’s the best thing Yorke and Greenwood have put out since “A Moon Shaped Pool.” Scouring subreddits and seeing the general fanbase’s reaction, most like it, though some are underwhelmed. Generally most are happy to see Yorke experimenting and adapting in new and creative ways. Wall of Eyes combines lush acoustic arrangements with far out electronic ambience and pushes the envelope past what is typical even for Yorke. This album is unabashedly jazzy with electronic, progressive, and metal influences throughout. It is a journey down an ominous and windy path showing Yorke and Greenwood’s take on our very strange times.  

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