‘Wall Of Eyes, On Film’ — A First Impression

The Smile’s newest album on surround sound

Counter Arts
6 min readJan 30, 2024


Painting by Stanley Donwood

In the lead-up to their worldwide release on the 26th of January 2024, The Smile screened their second album Wall Of Eyes in theaters around the world, and I was fortunate enough to attend one of them. I couldn’t resist taking part in a limited release of Radiohead's side project, which after listening through the album with the best speakers in town, might even prove to reach the same heights as their best works.

The screening was at seven P.M. and I came early just in case they were already selling the merchandise. They were just putting the posters up front when I came up to the theater at six. It was something else, looking at strangers and wondering which ones were going to the same screening I was, attending this special one-night thing. By six-thirty, I was in line, and at seven the film started right on cue.

Wall Of Eyes

It began with a beautiful silent look behind the scenes, of frontman Thom Yorke, guitarist (and pianist and everything-ist) Jonny Greenwood, and drummer Tom Skinner producing the new album’s music at Abbey Road. There were even glimpses of what‘s to be heard, Thom’s fingers dancing on an invisible piano, an orchestra with strings at the ready, before this completely quiet overture gives way to the full eight-track album. Forty-five minutes of magic ensued, accompanied by animated visualizers from Stanley Donwood’s paintings, fitting perfectly with every individual song. For each song, there’s a moment where the colors are inverted, synched to the music’s distortions as it defies aural expectations. When this happens, the paintings are turned inside out, like a false smile upside down, or an underlying melody revealing overarching truths. Sometimes the video also doubles over, the lines on top of one another, just as Thom’s voice echoes and is layered atop itself, producing an otherworldly effect.

The crowd was glued to their seats, all fans of various ages, whether it be the seasoned Radiohead experts with their OK Computer era tees, or others newly initiated by The Smile, they all share a communal joy. Sometimes I hear gasps at the end of a song or claps at an especially beautiful transition, and by the end when there’s a tease of more in the works, I know everyone’s faces have smiles of their own. In under an hour, there were legs tap-a-tapping, tango toes you couldn’t hear, and speakers ready to blow.

Photograph by the author

Paul Thomas Anderson

Afterward, came the music videos directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a historied melding between music and movies that may be the impetus of this entire event. Firstly, the premiere of Friend of a Friend, a heartwarming naturalist video with the band playing in front of school children. The contrast of having a song about people in power circulating money among themselves sung in front of children gives it a comical quality. Seeing the genuine innocent reaction of the kids, some yawning, the lyrics going over their heads, their blissful ignorance to the unorthodox beats, some lulled by Thom’s gentle voice, others banging their heads to the other Tom’s cymbal crash, makes it almost seem like a self-aware satire.

Next up is the titular Wall of Eyes, standing out and most overtly benefiting on widescreen. The opening feels like it was made with theaters in mind, with Thom framed in the center of a horizontal window, and opposite him a giant eye, watching. In the dark, I felt as if we — the audience — were the wall of eyes, and the band under our scrutiny, capturing our every attention. In black and white, the video echoes Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller Spellbound, with hypnotic visuals and practical camera tricks.

Wall of Eyes directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (left) and Spellbound directed by Alfred Hitchcock (right)

The rest of the screening is familiar territory but never before shown on the big screen, a retrospective of the artists’ collaboration over the years, from the Netflix short Anima, to music videos from Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. When the song Dawn Chorus hits, the entire theater is silent, collectively holding a heavy breath, only exhaling once the credits roll and the birds chirp with the morning sun. As if it was just released yesterday, the song appears to be impervious to time’s marching decay, as impactful and emotional as everyone remembers.

At the end of the two-hour screening, the usher asked us if the showing reminded us of the past, perhaps of our younger years experiencing A Moon Shaped Pool for the first time. Perhaps she posed the question because it tugged at her heartstrings too, as retrospectives remind us of who we were before, and most importantly the people who were by our side then, who perhaps have since gone or changed. She asked what our favorite tracks were, and mine was the sublime ballad Teleharmonic, with synthesizers and brief vivid lyrics that paint a picture of resignation. Thom’s ambiguous lyrics and Jonny’s asynchronous rhythms are still present even eight years since Radiohead’s last album, a trademark of their partnership, leaving each song’s meaning subjective and spacious enough for interpretation. One song could mean something as intimate as an old flame, or as political as pandemic corruption, depending on the listener. However, I usually gravitate to the former.

“So long. Soon you’ll be there.”

Thom said this regarding the meaning of the band’s name in their first live debut:

Not the smile as in ‘ahh!’, more ‘The Smile’ as in, the guy who lies to you every day.”

Photograph by Jonny Greenwood, poem by Ted Hughes

The album, and by extension the event, feels like a wake-up call and lullaby, a morning bell and a nice dream, a contradiction bringing dissonant melodies together. The album cover itself is tinted with two main colors, blue and orange, complementary colors of opposing concepts — fire and ice — stated more explicitly in Teleharmonic‘s bridge. Just as it toes the line of the alternative rock genre, almost every song in the album feels like it houses separate sonic signatures. Compared to their first go-around, A Light for Attracting Attention, this one is a more cohesive album, both cinematic and quaint. The screening succeeded in being not only a retrospective but also a look to the future, as the veteran musicians in this band have always experimented with their music and never stayed too long in their comfort zone.

To The Smile, perhaps the past is a combination of chords, with carefully crafted lyrics to summon them. But be careful what you wish for — they may say — yesterday is a haunting hymn in ever-changing time signatures, keeping you on your toes, as the past comes back for consequence. In their world, synthesizers keep the bassline in check, constant percussion calms heartbeats and Thom’s voice points to something stuck in your throat, a burrowed feeling untended.

A smile is supposed to represent warmth, shared joy, and understanding. Misused, it can also deceive, and when it does the smile is but a cold front, a rehearsed muscle twitch for the public, a jealous grin that keeps joy for itself. The smile of kids faced against the smile of those in power is life’s big contradiction, and The Smile’s main muse, translated in not so many words but through twists and turns in their melodic subversion.



Counter Arts

Chronic dreamer. Self-proclaimed poet, writer, and artist. Lover of art in all its myriad forms.