Country : United Kingdom Label : XL Recordings Genres and styles : Électro / expérimental / contemporain / Jazz / Rock Year : 2024

The Smile – Wall Of Eyes

· by Alain Brunet

Do walls have ears? They have eyes, suggests this audio recording at the beginning of 2024. Let’s see … or listen up! On this Wall Of Eyes, The Smile has pinned down eight rather long-format songs, ranging from 4 minutes and 35 seconds to 8 minutes and 3 seconds. In all, nearly 40 minutes of studio-recorded music, produced by Sam Petts-Davies. To fully understand where the Thom Yorke-Jonny Greenwood pairing now resides, we need to go back to 1997.

After the release of OK Computer, the album that made them famous that year, Radiohead’s aesthetic leaders went through their own evolution while consolidating their flagship, still today the most innovative of its size. The big transcendental blows were struck with the albums Kid A and Amnesiac, and what followed was always exciting, a rarity in the world of mass-market music. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the conceptual evolution of its most gifted members was more tangible in their individual approaches.

Since the soundtrack to the film There Will Be Blood (2007), Jonny Greenwood has gradually acquired mastery of writing and orchestral direction. He has also distinguished himself in electronic composition, initially in the service of soundtracks for cinema and complex songs. His aesthetic is influenced by contemporary jazz, math rock, prog rock, space rock, modern classical guitar, Western and Eastern classical music, electroacoustic, and IDM. Trained in contemporary forms of chamber (or symphonic) music, a formidable beatmaker in electro, guitarist Jonny Greenwood has become a complete musician. And a Radiohead mastermind at that.

An emblematic figure of the ’90s, Thom Yorke best marked out the electronic trail in Radiohead’s rock territory, an existential rock laden with epidermal melodies, well-constructed choruses, autistic halos, themes and reflections of a bitter-sweet everyday life, perfectly representative of how Generation X felt in the ’90s. The Eraser (2006) was for him the start of songs built with much more electronic material. We have fond memories of a masterful electro concert following his opus Anima (2019).

It seems that, at the end of Radiohead’s most recent cycle (A Moon Shaped Pool, released in 2016 and the tour that followed), Jonny Greenwood would have expressed a certain weariness of creating all this Radiohead circus with special effects, destined for arenas and stadiums.  

Until then, the two main heads hadn’t usually worked together in the context of their parallel projects, hence the interest of The Smile, which brought them together and linked them to the excellent drummer Tom Skinner of Sons of Kemet. Released in spring 2022, the album A Light For Attracting Attention had indeed captured our attention. For more or less a couple of years, The Smile has been the main creative vehicle for Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, bass, keyboards), and Tom Skinner.

A Light for Attracting Attention, the first album was great news as it brought together the two key artists of the famous Oxford quintet. A power trio of this level could make us forget, momentarily at least, three other radio heads with inferior technical resources. However… it’s not exactly the same sound, the execution is certainly more virtuoso, but the musical concepts could well have been explored by the famous quintet.

Most fans had subsequently enjoyed a much rockier, more muscular concert, nonetheless devoid of the most refined elements of  A Light For Attracting Attention.  Didn’t these elements constitute the main advances? But then again, you feel young and dashing again when it rocks. Why deny yourself the pleasure? Well… some have shunned the unpleasant listening conditions.

In the second chapter of the experience, Wall of Eyes follows in the same breath as the first: calm, airy songs, prog rock, or space rock at the confluence of jazz, chamber music (London Contemporary Orchestra, notably inFriend Of A Friend” and “I Quit”), syncopated psych-folk around an acoustic guitar, in short, a generally subtle, elevated fracture, of which one hopes for a live performance close to this delightful recording, for few pieces on this album are rock in their conception – “Under Our Pillows,” built on composed bars, or “Bending Hectic,” which evokes an unfortunate relationship with the car.  

In this case, looking for the best hook, the ideal hit, or the perfect compact rock song is beside the point; Wall of Eyes is not an album of that type, but rather one where the song form is a basis for compositional extensions. Instead of crafting rock songs with small elements of avant-garde, its creators and performers adopt now a deep creative posture via which a forest of subtlety emerges. A real grower.

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