Wall of Eyes

Wall of Eyes

The Smile, a trio featuring Radiohead prime movers Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood along with ex-Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, sounds more like a proper band than a side project on their second album. Sure, they’re a proper band that unavoidably sounds a lot like Radiohead, but with some notable distinctions—much leaner arrangements, bass parts by Greenwood and Yorke with a very different character from what Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood might have laid down, and a formal fixation on conveying tension in their melodies and rhythms. Their debut, A Light for Attracting Attention, was full of tight, wrenching grooves and guitar parts that sounded as though the strings were coiling into knots. This time around they head in the opposite direction, loosening up to the point that the music often feels extremely light and airy. The guitar in the first half of “Bending Hectic” is so delicate and minimal that it sounds like it could get blown away with a slight breeze, while the warm and lightly jazzy “Friend of a Friend” feels like it’s helplessly pushed and pulled along by strong, unpredictable winds. The loping rhythm and twitchy riffs in “Read the Room” are surrounded by so much negative space that it sounds eerily hollow, like Yorke is singing through the skeletal remains of a ’70s metal song. There are some surprises along the way, too. A few songs veer into floaty lullaby sections, and more than half include orchestral tangents that recall Greenwood’s film score work for Paul Thomas Anderson and Jane Campion. The most unexpected moment comes at the climax of “Bending Hectic,” which bursts into heavy grunge guitar, stomping percussion, and soaring vocals. Most anyone would have assumed Yorke and Greenwood had abandoned this type of catharsis sometime during the Clinton administration, but as it turns out they were just waiting for the right time to deploy it.

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