“How are you feeling?” No Rome asks on the second track of his long-awaited debut album, ‘It’s All Smiles’. It’s a question that, while not explicitly voiced, is woven into the fabric of the rest of the record – its title, after all, refers to the idea that sharing your struggles and pain is a positive.
Over 10 songs, the Dirty Hit-signed artist – aka Guendoline Rome Viray Gomez – shares stories of his own experiences and emotions set to inventive bursts of what he calls “shoegaze R&B”. That genre does exactly what it says on the tin, combining two worlds via the walls of fizzing noise (found on the likes of ‘When She Comes Around’ and ‘Space Cowboy’) and smooth grooves (‘I Want U’). Just to keep us on our toes, Rome also throws some garage (‘Remember November / Bitcrush*Yr*Life’) and balladry (‘A Place Where Nobody Knows’) in there for good measure too.
Although ‘It’s All Smiles’ has been in the works for years – he made his debut with 2018’s ‘RIP Indo Hisashi’ EP, and supported labelmates The 1975 on their UK arena tour – the record finally came to its last incarnation during the pandemic, when its creator was locked down back in his hometown of Manila. He found inspiration a lot more free-flowing when night fell over the city and you can hear the influence of after-dark all over the album. ‘Issues (After Dark)’ is a languid, shadowy interlude, Rome repeating gloomily “I got no issues with you after dark” over the sparse piece. On the more cheerful ‘How Are You Feeling?’, he admits, “I just wanna go to bed”, while he’s still sleep-deprived one song later: “I’ve been losing sleep over a headache,” he sighs in the low-key crackle of ‘I Want U’’s opening lines.
Rome prides himself on the textures and sonic designs of his songs and, with some assistance from co-producers BJ Burton (Kanye West, Bon Iver, Charli XCX) and The 1975’s George Daniel, here the music helps to share his feelings as much as the lyrics do. It’s there in the distant buzzing and on-the-edge synth melodies of the downcast ‘ITS *NOT* LOV33 (Winter In London)’, but nowhere is it clearer than on closing track ‘Everything’, which moves from apprehensive optimism in its layers of lush backing vocals to an all-out explosion of hope in its final burst of distortion and skittering beats.
On ‘It’s All Smiles’, No Rome has created an immersive world that envelopes you like a warm hug and urges you to let it all out – whether happy or sad. It might have taken a while to get to us, but an album with that effect is often worth the wait; Rome’s debut most certainly is.
- Release date: December 3, 2021
- Record label: Dirty Hit