Review Explosion, Short Cuts Edition, Vol. 12: Three Great New LPs From Radiohead Side Project The Smile, Indie Faves Guided By Voices, and Souldies Pioneers Thee Sinseers

The three albums covered here in the 2024 debut installment of Review Explosion Short Cuts are about as diverse as one can imagine — but they all share a common thread of high production values, strong melodies. and an underlying sense of respect for the past while embracing the future. Each of these three LPs are very different, yet all of them are worth considering adding to your collection. Let’s get to it!



1LP (XL Recordings)

Technically, Wall of Eyes by The Smile is a side project — effectively, a second band — from key members of England’s iconic alt-rock band, Radiohead. Given that said key members include their primary songwriters — lead singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Johnny Greenwood — it’s hard to not consider this fine new release a part of the general Radiohead universe.

The music here straddles different vibes, from chill and progressive to moody and majestic. From the acoustic opening of the title track “Wall of Eyes” (Side One, Track 1) to the rich build of “Under Our Pillows” (Side One, Track 4), this new music lets you know where it has come from, and where it might be going.

That said, from my vantage point, Wall of Eyes has found a way to bridge the many musical twists and turns Radiohead has taken across their career without trying to be a so-called “career retrospective.” Listen closely, and you can feel the thread connecting more recent Radiohead albums like May 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool to the classic barrier-breaking turn-of-the-century collections, October 2000’s Kid A and May 2001’s Amnesiac — and even on back to March 1995’s The Bends and other side projects of theirs such as Yorke’s Atoms For Peace collective and their February 2013 LP, Amok.


“Bending Hectic” (Side Two, Track 3) may be one of the most beautifully tragic snapshots of an individual taking control of one’s path in life, for better or for worse. I love how it slams into a wall of metallic angst, veering off the mountainside in a buildup reminiscent of no less than The Beatles’ seminal June 1967 Sgt. Pepper finale, “A Day in the Life.”

One of my favorite tracks here, “Friend of a Friend” (Side Two, Track 1), feels like what might have happened had Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, and Robert Wyatt collaborated on writing a song in the style of Radiohead’s aforementioned Kid A and Amnesiac. It’s all there — rich melody, quirky time changes, and haunting, curiously harmonized vocals.


Wall of Eyes is available on sky blue vinyl as well as standard black, both with an SRP of $29.99. I initially bought the blue edition as it was the only version my local store had available at the time, but I was very disappointed with the noisy pressing. This was not surprising to me, unfortunately, as in the past. I have been less than enthralled by the pressing quality of other domestic releases issued by XL Recordings, especially on color vinyl.

Fortunately, when I brought the blue copy back to the shop, they had received their shipment of the standard black vinyl, and that version of the Wall of Eyes LP does indeed sound a lot better. While it is still not perfect — there are some non-fill moments toward the end of Side Two, so I’ve given the Sound an 8 rating. Hence, I would advise you pick up the black vinyl edition for the best playback results.

Nonetheless, Wall of Eyes is a wonderful release. It’s fresh new music from some old friends — so if you like Radiohead, then The Smile’s latest is essential listening.

Music Direct Buy It Now



1LP (Guided By Voices Inc.)

Nowhere To Go But Up, is one of the better-sounding albums by the latest (and arguably greatest) incarnation of Guided By Voices. Not that their albums sound bad — in fact, many GBV releases in recent years have sounded quite great!

However, there seems to be a somewhat nagging reputation I’ve come face to face with from some folks who think that all of GBV’s music is lo-fi, a form for which they originally achieved fame and acclaim with the landmark release of MONTH 1994 classic LP Bee Thousand. In reality, the majority of GBV releases — and related solo and side-project albums from lead singer and main songwriter Robert Pollard — actually are very hi-fi.

Nowhere To Go But Up is another one of those GBV collections that maintains a sense of high fidelity from start to finish. It’s not a super-dynamic recording — so don’t expect production values akin to Abbey Road — but this is a real good-sounding studio-crafted rock record. It fully captures the feel of this utterly road-tested, well-oiled, and finely tuned version of the band. Everything fits just right — and it still sounds fab when you turn it up loud on your stereo.

Add in the fact that the songs are fun and hook-filled, and you have yet another GBV release to seriously consider adding to your collection. This also shouldn’t be too much of a strain to consider picking up, given its SRP is $23.99.

While I suspect GBV albums are likely made in the digital domain, the good sound should be attributed at least in part to the efforts of their now longtime producer, Travis Harrison. I’ve noticed the band seems to view certain albums of theirs in higher regard simply due to the packaging quality — and Nowhere To Go But Up is one of those LPs that comes to you housed in an audiophile-grade plastic-lined black inner sleeve along with a custom picture label.


You may be wondering what the songs sound like by now. Nowhere To Go But Up delivers some kickin’ tunes, right from the opening one-two punch of “The Race Is On, The King Is Dead” and “Puncher’s Parade” (Side One, Tracks 1 and 2, respectively). True to form, overdriven, layered-up electric guitars are one of the key musical flavors here as played by longtime GBV lead guitarist Doug Gillard and his sympathetic (and equally talented) counterpart in the current lineup, Bobby Bare Jr. (yes, the son of country western icon Bobby Bare).

Nowhere To Go But Up is very much sequenced for vinyl listening, as evidenced by “We’re Going The Wrong Way In” and “Jack of Legs” (Side Two, Tracks 1 and 2, respectively), which deliver a powerful suite reminding me of no less than The Who’s December 1967 LP The Who Sell Out by way of October 1973’s Quadrophenia, complete with horns at points! There is even a sweet Pete Townshend-esque acoustic guitar moment at the start of “For the Home” (Side Two, Track 3), which was also released as a single last October.

If you enjoyed earlier hi-fi-leaning GBV albums like August 1999’s Do the Collapse, June 2002’s Universal Truths and Cycles, and August 2003’s Earthquake Glue, you might very well enjoy Nowhere To Go But Up. This is a real good one — but aren’t they all?

Music Direct Buy It Now



1LP (Colemine Records)

I’ve been following East Los Angeles’ Thee Sinseers for a few years now, and I’m excited that their first official album is out — finally — and it’s out today, March 22, in fact! And, in short, it’s a winner, starts to finish.

As one of the preeminent bands in the nationwide “souldies” movement — a new generation of artists and bands creating exciting new music directly influenced by the vintage soul, doo-wop, rock, and rhythm & blues sounds of the ’60s and early ’70s — Thee Sinseers knocked me out from the first time I heard them on a Colemine Records sampler. Some folks refer to this as “low rider” music, while others might put at least some of their music into the “Northern Soul” category (referring to the northern UK music phenomena).

Kicking off the album with “What’s His Name,” singer, main songwriter, and overarching bandleader Joey Quiñones leads Thee Sinseers with a glowing, infectious charm. It immediately takes listeners on a journey to a place where AM radio never died — Do you remember rock & soul radio? — inevitably triggering memories of hits from the past, yet somehow feeling fresh and new.

Those of you who are old enough to remember groups like The Stylistics, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Delfonics, and Eddie Holman will appreciate the frequent falsetto lead and harmony vocals of Thee Sinseers. Having seen them perform live, I know the band rounds out this sound with a strong James Brown-meets-Stax element in their live performance that doesn’t fully come across on this album. (Hold onto that thought for a moment.) That said, Thee Sinseers’ sound on Sinseerly Yours is lush, with instrumentation including guitars, bass, drums, woodwinds, tenor and baritone saxophone, trombone, lap-steel guitar, cello, violin, trumpet, and flute.


In general, I have found vinyl pressings to be excellent from Colemine Records. I was initially sent the Sinseerly Yours CD, but when I got my web-exclusive, red-fire color vinyl edition, I was pleased just how fat and rich the album sounds on LP. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet it was done at least in part in the analog realm — and if it wasn’t, someone did a very good job of approximating the vibe!

From official press materials we learn, “All of the album’s stunning tracks were recorded in a converted studio space in Rialto, California, known as Second Hand Sounds. This space, which used to be a dentist’s office, allowed the group to experiment with their sound like never before — this time, the group managed to take a series of big swings, only to emerge with a fuller, more pronounced version of themselves. Despite those new strides, the band remains wholly committed to its sonic aesthetic while injecting its brand of vibrant 21st-century cool.”

The SRP for the Sinseerly Yours LP is $23.99, available both online here, and at most good indie record stores. The gatefold album cover is constructed in the classic style of thick sturdy cardboard, and the LP comes housed in an audiophile-grade plastic-lined rice-paper style inner sleeve.

Midrange-rich and subwoofer-ready bass complement the fat horn section, crisp vocals, and lush harmonies on Sinseerly Yours, a recording that delivers the vintage vibe without sounding dated or, more importantly, copycat. All the influences are so organically meshed into their sound that you forget about the historical touchstones they are making. Kick back and revel in the beauty of moments such as in “Keep on Calling” (Side One, Track 2), where Quiñones brings the band down after a solo section to a cool calm vamp before launching into a spine-tingling, reverb-drenched shout that brings the band back in full as a bedrock for his vocalese and falsetto flourishes.

One thing about Thee Sinseers that did come across in their live show is that they are very much “a band,” and thus, other players get to share in the spotlight. “Can’t Call Me Baby” (Side One, Track 3) features second vocalist Adriana Flores on the leads, and the immediately earworm-y “Give It Up You Fool” (Side One, Track 4) showcases guitarist and song co-writer Bryan Ponce.

Sinseerly Yours kicks off with such a strong first side that before you know it, you are immersed in the powerful and poignant epic side-closer, “Hold On” (Side One, Track 5), replete with haunting strings and horns. This sequence strategy continues on through to the album-closing title track “Sinseerly Yours” (Side Two, Track 5), which feels like a lost Jimmy Scott tune by way of The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You” (a No. 1 Billboard hit in 1959). Expect to hear some deep, deep — deeeeep! — echo-chamber effects for the supremely soaring lead vocals and haunting lap-steel guitar touches, the latter of which adds a lovely reference to Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” (itself also a No. 1 Billboard hit in 1959). Heart-stopping beauty, here.


I have to put out some kudos here to Colemine Records for the quality of their releases. Pretty much every album I’ve bought on this label over the last several years has been solid. I appreciate that, for an indie label, they are wise enough to give us key details on where their albums are pressed (Gotta Groove Records), who cut the lacquers (Well Made Music), and who did the mastering (Doug Krebs) right on the album’s hype sticker. This is something most major labels don’t do often enough, save for the high-end releases from the likes of Universal and Craft Recordings (via Acoustic Sounds, Tone Poet, etc.). This is a very cool thing. Even for standard-weight vinyl, generally, the quality of Colemine LPs is very clean, and the pressings are well-centered and quiet.

Sinseerly Yours is already on my short list for being one of the best releases of 2024. It may even become my favorite album of the year — time will tell. For its $23.99 SRP — and for being released officially today on March 22 — this is a relatively inexpensive way to get in on all Thee Sinseers fun. This is the good stuff!

Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.


Glotz's picture

I dig it Mark! Thanks for reminding me of GBV. One artist I could never keep up with even if I was a lotto winner. But excellent guidance for us in that last paragraph. I will need to search that out online.

And for Sinseers.. double thank yous! Totally unknown to me and a welcome new band for me I'm sure.

And as for The Smile.. oh man. Nailed it. Seeing them do Bending Hectic outdoors at Pitchfork was a ton of charged fun! Front row standing room before that was even greater. Pulled Apart By Horses was great to hear live for the first time. Just a transcendental show, every waking minute. Thom truly connects with those that seek connecting and sharing his utterly unique ride in the now. His solo shows are equally riveting.

Glotz's picture

The blue vinyl had some noise on side 2 and I couldn't live with that for a minute. The black is quieter, flat and concentric as well.

I had two great copies of "A Light..." with the indy store-only sun-yellow and the Rough Trade only- smoke vinyl/orange cover was.

Shame here, color vinyl used to suck. But I have so many nice sounding exceptions, I now relegate it to the attention to proper pressing procedure- dust, rushing the time process or sloppy alignment. Truth be told, XL has f'd up my Radiohead reissues more than once- and hundreds of dollars invested. Again, I point to the attention to detail.

WesHeadley's picture

I'm a collector and have much experience with XL Recordings consistently poor quality pressings. I matters not the edition you buy either. Moon Shaped Pool black and white vinyl releases were truly awful, so I purchased the special book edition-- beautiful packaging, but the same abysmal pressing. It is nearly impossible to get a decent Radiohead pressing on vinyl and that is a shame. Some labels consider vinyl as an afterthought. Merge Records and Matador also come to mind with their dizzying array of poor pressings.

The one thing I tell anyone buying records that they should do-- if the pressing sucks, return it! They do understand money, and returns cost them money. Labels make excuses all day long for why their quality control is so poor, but returns make them face the added cost of creating a poor quality "premium product".

yodebi's picture

Thanks! heardle has a strong social component, with players sharing their scores on social media and competing with friends