Nomen Novum's Lookalikes stays dreamy

David Norbery's latest maintains pensive optimism

No matter the genre, the one-man band faces an uphill battle. He must fulfill all the roles expected of a band with equal amounts of grace and precision. David Norbery, the face behind his dreamy alter ego Nomen Novum, tackles that challenge with ease. His moniker is Latin for "new name," but Norbery has been churning out his brand of airy, glitchy pop-bliss for five years. His latest, a six-song EP titled Lookalikes, out via Deer Bear Wolf Records, explores the sonic middle ground that exists between skippy hip-hop, operatic vocals, and tender synthesizer textures championed by artists like Baths and the Postal Service during its grimier moments.

Norbery's latest offering kicks off with the groovy optimism of "Lock Take Hide." He sells hopefulness far better than despair as his synths swirl around desires to live "out of sight, safe from harm, a life without alarms." The song grows like an ever-expanding grin. His voice begins soft and sparse but soon builds within layers in a grand conversation with himself.

Lookalikes' title track is the clear standout with the only melody that wriggles in your mind like an earworm. Norbery blends starry-eyed guitar chords and a mix of electronics and acoustics that ground his most computerized textures in humanity. "My Death Mask" has shimmering moments of promise but the lofty heights he tries to reach are weighed down by chunky, repetitive percussion. The glimmering electronic and bell lines erupt with liveliness but often the grooves lack a similar feeling of humanity — a result of their predictable mechanistic qualities. The most tender, gripping moment of the song comes at the end when the slogging rhythms drop out to nothing but a lone piano piece gorgeous enough to deserve its own track.

The piano's softness is cut short by the chilling vibe of "Ourself." Rising, serpentine strings create a sense of urgency that's often lost elsewhere throughout Lookalikes. However, the rich layers of strings and haunted organs don't receive the space they deserve as the clutter of percussion distracts from the superior instrumentation.

"Crash + Rust" relies on a simple beat that's a refreshing change of course from the rhythmic clatter that dominates much of the EP. Here, Norbery is at his most experimental, using obscured conversations and dueling synth lines to create warm textures that guide the song's intensity. Yet the track fails to reach the intensity it strives to achieve. The extended crescendo tapers off long before its peak as the song gives up on itself — right when the build gets truly tantalizing.

The EP ends on a strong note with the fitting closer, "Opal Aura," relying on a soft-yet-soaring groove that portrays the optimism that's at odds with Norbery's bleak lyrics. He cries "there must be something left, a simple life, an easy death." Heartbreak and sentimental meanderings dot the overall mood of the EP, and this last track encapsulates that vague feeling of desperation with glimmers of hope. At times the songs sound defeated, even hollow as numerous ideas falter and stray before reaching their deserved conclusions. If Norbery had more faith in the staying power of his own arrangements they could scale the peaks and descend into the valleys he's reaching for instead of only grasping at the two extremes. The percussion especially muddles the emotional spectrum he works so tirelessly to convey. Lookalikes bursts with promise and raw lyricism, but often Norbery's talents are too content to accept an easy death over an extended life.