On his full-length debut, the 24-year-old singer’s chameleonic tenor pierces through the Dirty Hit template and finds a natural fit in pouty pop-rock and gauzy trip-hop.
It was Matty Healy’s sticky earworm of a hook that introduced us to No Rome in 2018. On “Narcissist,” No Rome lays the groundwork, spinning rhymes and stringing together brief reflections on taking acid and alienating himself. Healy’s back-up coos and earnest cry—“I’ve been seeing somebody”—formed a compelling endorsement of this soft-spoken, R&B-influenced Gen Z newcomer. The track, off No Rome’s RIP Indo Hisashi EP, ushered him into the 1975 universe with subtle, polished swagger.
No Rome, born Guendoline Rome Viray Gomez, had been releasing lo-fi tracks on SoundCloud from his hometown of Manila in the Philippines when Healy emailed and invited him to the UK. He signed to Healy’s Dirty Hit label almost immediately; Healy told Zane Lowe that Rome became “a bit of a muse” and that the two shared “parallel” ideas. In 2019, Rome, Healy, and the 1975’s George Daniel drew on that overlapping vision for No Rome’s second EP, the sparkly and brooding Crying in the Pretty Places. This past year, Charli XCX joined the now London-based artist for a one-off single. With his debut LP, It’s All Smiles, No Rome sets out to prove himself as not just a muse or collaborator but a key player in this realm of glossy and emotional left-of-center pop.
Dirty Hit began as a home for the 1975 when no other label wanted them, and it’s grown into a mini pop powerhouse in recent years, signing beabadoobee, Wolf Alice, the Japanese House, and Rina Sawayama. Most of its artists are young, with a shared affinity for slick production, dreamy synths, and the 1990s—a bedroom haze of alt-rock. Excellent albums have come out of the Dirty Hit braintrust, along with some derivative and underwhelming ones. Healy and co. are smart to bet on No Rome and It’s All Smiles gives him a lot to work with: He can croon, sing-rap over a skipping beat, or stretch across an ambient drone. In line with Dirty Hit’s underdog vibe, the album presents an outline for a fresh alternative sound, one that’s undeniably current without relying on major labels or TikTok trends. It’s solid pop with an experimental slant.
A hopeless romantic, No Rome spends much of the album delivering melancholy-tinged love songs and spottily recounting scenes from a party as if he’s just coming to. He remembers doing lines on the table and playing Prince to get someone’s attention; he fixates on her words and believes the sun doesn’t shine without her. The lyrics are simple, immediate snapshots of longing, but the production choices make them glow. Just when a song threatens to glide into easy listening, a skittering drumbeat shakes you awake.
Opener “Space-Cowboy” is busy with pitched-up vocals and glitchy modulations that could’ve been plucked from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. There are echoes of Healy’s vocal cadence on “How Are You Feeling?” and shades of co-producer BJ Burton’s signal-distorting past work with Kanye West and Bon Iver in the moody guitars and fuzzy bass of “ITS *N0T* LOV33 (Winter in London).” At times these familiar notes can make the album sound a bit generic. But its range—not quite genre-spanning, but wide enough within the critically acclaimed pop quadrant—is gratifying. No Rome has described his style as “shoegaze R&B,” a vibe best realized in Frank Oceanic croons and widescreen synth-scapes on “Issues (After Dark)” and “Remember November / Bitcrush*Yr*Life.” Sunny reverb and shout-along refrains on more traditional pop numbers like “When She Comes Around” are big and rousing enough to fill a medium-sized room.
No Rome could probably command a bigger one: His chameleonic tenor pierces through the Dirty Hit template, a natural fit for pouty pop-rock or gauzy trip-hop. But eventually It’s All Smiles starts to run out of steam. Its songs are ambitious compared to radio pop, but too safe to really stand out; it’s a cinematic album in search of a climax. And while No Rome’s vocals scale up to the bolder flourishes, his lyrics come out undercooked, especially on sparser tracks like “I Want U.” The lack of balance doesn’t entirely register on a cursory listen. But as valuable as the 1975’s mentorship has been, No Rome will need more purposeful songwriting and less expected reference points to truly stand alone.