Written by Zachariah Calluori
Currently based between the New York and Boston areas, iiii (pronounced "four") is comprised of vocalist Laila Smith, pianist Paul Bloom, bassist Connor Schultze, and drummer Jeremy Dutton. In addition to the main four members, a fifth musician—guitarist Alex Graff—lends additional texture and flavor to the track. “Looking Glass” evidences a shift from the acoustic first album, iiii, to a more electric sound, bridged by the interim single “Face to Face” and given extra push by the new D’Angelo release.
To quote Smith, “let’s take it from the top”: In its first second, "Looking Glass" hits a sweet spot. In that momentous second, the electric piano creeps in with a pickup into the first beat, and by the time the first rim-click hits “2,” the listener's metaphorical seat-belt has fastened. iiii locks in right around 86 beats per minute, and it's a tempo that tells all. At 86 strides per minute, walking morphs into a sashay, full of intention and intrigue. At 86 bpm, the heart has become ever so subtly piqued above resting; it is the slightest of brush of a corpuscle and the accompanying pupil-stretch. On “Looking Glass,” iiii stretches an initial jitter across three minutes and, underneath, drizzles a rich, smooth honey groove. They manage to maintain a steady cool in tandem with a bubbling but restrained energy.
“Looking Glass” keeps iiii’s signature positivity, musicianship, and R&B-inflected sensibilities, but also covers new ground both production and performance-wise. The track is their first to be self-recorded, and to great results—the sonic architecture is dense, but still sounds effortless. iiii skillfully balances shaker, tambourine, and drum set, with its big, sloshy hi-hats; a 5-string electric bass; a clean guitar in the left ear; a wide variety of keyboard sounds; and a host of fills from all the players. From the fat snare sound, to Smith's lead vocal, to the harmonies provided by both Smith and Schultze, all its musical elements hold their own in the mix and have been accurately captured, down to the immediately identifiable decay of a Zildjian K Constantinople cymbal crash at 1:25. Paul’s experimentation with keyboard sounds comes to the foreground of the sonic landscape during the Thundercat-esque bridge. He merges the Rhodes sound of the baseline keyboard track with a high, watery keyboard sound, reminiscent of an isolated upper harmonic of a Hammond B-3 with the Leslie on. Reverse vocal samples about two minutes in, also further prove the point that the mixing is very alive and descriptive of the stereo picture, with bass, vocal, and guitar fills coming from various directions.
The lyrical content draws on Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass as well as outer space, crafting an imaginative take on the dynamics of romance (the "fall") and intrigue of novelty— Smith sings, “step right through my looking glass, I’ll be your little rabbit,” though feelings change going into the bridge. But “Looking Glass” also plays with the idea of vision and perspective and its interaction with truth, dropping thought-provoking lines like “Sometimes I think it’s what I see that leaves me truly blind,” followed by, “People tell me truth, have me going Mad Hatter.” These are sentiments we can take beyond interpersonal relationships and into society; such questions of illusion and reality resonate with present problems related to race, media, and structural violence.
iiii has an forthcoming EP with a yet-to-be-determined released date. More of their music can be found at their Soundcloud.