Radiohead side-projects have popped up through the latter half of the band’s 30-year career. Away from the day job, Thom Yorke has made electric forays with three solo albums as well as work with Atoms For Peace, while Jonny Greenwood has become a renowned and highly sought-after classical composer for both the big and small screen.
In recent years, Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway have also released solo albums, while Colin Greenwood can currently be found playing live with Nick Cave.
What marks out The Smile from these other projects is the presence of two members of Radiohead’s beating heart. Both Yorke and Jonny Greenwood started this band with former Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner during the pandemic, releasing debut album A Light for Attracting Attention in 2022. For the first time in any of the band’s side-projects, it was hard to decipher the discernable differences between what The Smile made and what a new Radiohead album might sound like.
This trend continues on follow-up Wall of Eyes, which arrives after an extensive 2023 world tour where the band debuted new music and continued their hot streak. The group’s first live shows
felt freeing and largely without pressure, a sentiment that was borne out on a beautiful and untethered debut album that didn’t deviate far from the Radiohead formula but produced some of
the pair’s best songs in a decade or more.
As with A Light for Attracting Attention, Wall of Eyes feels like Radiohead in all but name. Yorke’s voice remains so strong, warm, comfortable feeling any fan of their ‘main’ band will recognise, if that categorisation of Radiohead can even exist in 2024.
‘Under Our Pillows’ sees Yorke slot in between Greenwood’s jerky, intricate guitar lines while Skinner shows his jazz chops behind them. The singer’s instantly recognisable, unchanged voice shines most on the album’s best song, ‘Bending Hectic’. Across the track’s eight minutes, it travels from a fragmented beginning defined by Greenwood’s gorgeous, fluttery guitars, before a torrent of distorted guitars clatter in with distinct shades of The Bends. Elsewhere, the trio master gently foreboding slow jams (the album’s title track), Greenwood- led epics (‘Read the Room’) and stark and sparse beauty (closer ‘You Know Me!’).
Though musically diverse, what ties the album together is its unrestricted feel. A new band name needn’t mean a reinvention of the wheel, just a new medium through which to continue treading a similar path — one that remains brilliantly fruitful.
Maybe the joy of The Smile for Yorke and Greenwood is the lack of pressure relative to releasing a 10th Radiohead album. Whichever name they decide to release their newest creations under, having this duo still so eager to make music together — and their creation being this spellbinding — is reward enough for patient Radiohead fans.