Australian three-piece Looking Glass made their debut in 2006 with a self-titled offering of heavy riffs and low-bottom grooves. It was a solid first showing, had some potential, and was ultimately up-front in what it was trying to achieve – riffing out, tossing in some psych. The follow-up, 2007’s 2, was also self-released and expanded greatly the psychedelic flourishes, pushing to the fore a jammed sensibility that the first outing didn’t have. It too was more a showing of potential, though, and listening to this year’s III, it seems as though Looking Glass – guitarist/vocalist Marcus de Pasquale, bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Lachlan Paine and drummer Clinton Paine – have spent the last four years making sure the potential they showed their last two times out started paying off. In short, it worked. III – the switch to Roman numerals being evident in the digipak artwork – blends the approaches of Looking Glass’ two prior releases, focusing in its earlier tracks on riffy drive and rhythmic crunch, and then gradually shifting into more spacious and expansive elements, more than doubling the runtime of songs like the catchy “Electric Mistress” or “Child of Vertigo” with the massive closing duo “Wizard of the Skull” (12:05) and “The King in Yellow” (11:07).
But for the smoothness of the transition by which that shift takes place, III would almost certainly be following a vinyl structure. Rather, it seems to be that rare thing these days: a CD actually meant to be a CD. The 49 minutes have a linear pattern, so that as “Child of Vertigo” (4:46) gives way to the transitional “Spiral Altar” (8:47), there’s less of a jump than there might be if, say, you were meant to flip a record from one side to the other. That said, the last two tracks are just about two minutes shorter than the five preceding, and that time can be largely accounted for in the acoustic interlude “Shores of Carcosa,” which divides opener “Heavy on the Hook” and “Electric Mistress” from “Child of Vertigo” and “Spiral Altar,” so maybe it could go either way. In any case, Looking Glass do well with the compact disc structure, and the progression of their songs is carried across without sounding forced or losing the momentum built by the first several tracks. To that end, “Heavy on the Hook” lives up to its name as the launch for III. Undeniably riff-based, it finds Marcus shouting far back in the mix behind Clinton’s propulsive drumming and righteously thick fills from Lachlan. At about halfway through, the groove opens up, Lachlan hits the wah and things go full-stoner, which serves as a solid lead-in for “Electric Mistress,” which is III’s best chorus and most classic jam. Marcus unrepentantly noodles through a solo and Sabbathian transitions smoothly executed by the Paines lead the way back into the song’s inevitable finish. By the time “Shores of Carcosa” comes on with a bit of finger, the breather is appreciated.
“Child of Vertigo” continues in a similar vein, but it somewhat chunkier in terms of its opening riff. Lachlan’s bass dominates again – I don’t think so much it’s that the guitars sound thin or compressed as it is the bass is just that molten – and pushes the groove forward past the quick stops in the riff, while the drums work frantically (and seemingly without exhaustion) to keep up with the speedier pulse, over which the vocals stretch out and rest comfortably. Marcus impresses with another solo, and as the last of Looking Glass’ three straightforward inclusions, “Child of Vertigo” impresses no less than either of those that preceded. One might expect a long fadeout to make way for ”Spiral Altar,” but “Child of Vertigo” ends cold, and the following cut actually begins in much the same way. It’s not until the song gets past its first verse that the full breadth begins to make itself known. There are two distinct, discernable jams, both of Sabbath-hued bluster. A spacey blowout leads to downer riffing, gradually giving way to classic prog indulgence, and following another verse, Marcus’ lead is deconstructed to echoing single notes and open space. A long silence takes hold before “Wizard of the Skull” and “The King in Yellow” cap III with its most psychedelically ranging material.
Neither is completely instrumental, but vocals are sparse in both. “Wizard of the Skull” belts out its verses quickly within the first three minutes and then forays into territory that probably even Looking Glass didn’t know they were directed toward when they started out. Clinton’s drumming holds steady while Marcus’ goes on an effects trip and Lachlan gives the jam its grooving foundation to allow same to be more than indecipherable indulgence. It’s not a particularly new formula, but Looking Glass make it their own with the added keyboard work and more than enough chemistry between the three players, and the song breaks into a dreamy second half build that feels neither formulaic nor overly scripted. Had they ended III there, I’d probably still call it a remarkable step forward from 2, but with “The King in Yellow”’s stonerly chugging, Looking Glass resolve their most cohesive meld of the sides of their sound. Most importantly, where “Wizard of the Skull” wanders (and purposefully), “The King in Yellow” never completely loses sight of the song it started from, and returns to its central figure riff even after several minutes of journeying jam. They don’t go so far as to bring back another verse, but the march of that riff leads into the long fadeout, and that proves enough, the ghostly keyboard line remaining for a time on its own after the guitars, bass and drums have finished. More than anything, what this shows is that though they can jam out when that’s what they’re feeling, Looking Glass have it in them as well to keep hold of their material and not sacrifice songwriting to be heavy, or expansive, or whatever else. In that way, III continues the band’s tradition of showing marked potential for their next outing, whenever and in whatever shape that might come, but stands on its own as a quality release as well. It might take a few listens to really sink in, but the personality III shows is, heavy, engaging, and rife with a burgeoning musical individuality.
Tags: Australia, Canberra, Looking Glass, Unsigned bands