Editor’s Disclosure: Executive editor of ArtsATL, Laura Relyea, serves as a volunteer event curator and coordinator for Deer Bear Wolf’s reading series, Transgression.
Nomem Novum’s new album, ATLANTVM, is a beautiful, complex concept album that took several years to make. In the first moments of the album, you are dropped into what the band describes as a “mythological, post-apocalyptic or dreamed Atlanta” that gives a sense of urgency and futurism not often felt in contemporary music. Interestingly enough, the future still feels slightly like the 1980s. Fans of Arcade Fire may find this album to be a great introduction to a local band with a similar sound.
Synthesizers and drifting pads are the openings to an album that could be the soundtrack to Blade Runner or Tron. The second track, “Yellow Shadow,” pulses with an epic groove and catchy synth line. Here, the quality of the album’s production can be heard in the attention to detail. Vocal effects that change line to line, perfectly rhythmic guitar delays and a nice, crisp overall tone are highlighted from the outset of the album.
The third track, “Noncommittal,” starts with a heavy beat evocative of a truly Atlanta-made album. Despite the presence of a big beat, this track quickly returns to the futuristic synthetic sound that courses through the album’s entirety. The chorus to “Noncommittal” is melodically pleasing and epically charged, an interesting play on a hip-hop rhythm track fused with ’80s synth and big vocals.
“Half Light” is pushed quickly on the listener with a full synthesizer and supported by lyrics that harken to youthful days of exploration: “Heard of a secret clearing beyond the stars. We’ll take our bikes it’s not that far.” Throughout the exploration, the vocals could allude to some futuristic world that is engulfed in a nuclear fallout, or if you resist that notion, the tale of a sunset wonderland. This track features some of the virtuosic synth and guitar solos that you can find on other tracks like “Hidden Acres” or “Yellow Shadow.”
By the middle mark of the album, one can only wonder if Novem Novum’s inceptor, David Norbery, lives in a constant deluge of dystopian dissatisfaction and fear. The ominous tones of an apocalypse continue with very Win Butler-esque vocals. Interestingly titled, “Angler’s Corner” appears to be a mysterious tale of a feverish narrator who is wandering through a hopeless wasteland. Structurally repetitive, the fifth track of the album is an intense pivot for the album that leaves the listener with no choice but to keep listening.
And if you kept listening you will be rewarded by the upbeat sixth track, “Simulcast.” Here Norbery’s vocals have a stark rawness reminiscent of an All That You Can’t Leave Behind-era Bono. Norbery’s attention to panning and production can be heard specifically in the bridge of this song. The song shows its ability to create a broad full sound. It must have taken five years just to harness the synthesizer as is done on this track.
On “Hidden Acres,” David Norbery shows he has the power and potential of delivering electric pop anthems and utilizes the emotion of iv-vi-v chord progression — it’s a beautiful thing when well-used, as it is in this instance. The lyrics tell a sweet tale of a home and a “hidden” acre. Fringing on the emotion and tactics employed by hip-hop anthems, this song only lacks the inspiration it’s begging for in its chorus line, “I will wait for the fireplace.” However, the musical lack of resolve due to the song being buried in its subdominant is just the right trick for never feeling quite at home.
At certain points on the album, Nomen Novem exhibits that their songs can have the grooviest of grooves. “Moon Lingerie” features some of Norbery’s most driving rhythm tracks and his finest vocals; his voice is strong and well-mixed and the lyrics suggest a temporal urgency. This track is also the first feature of a mysterious harmonica solo — perhaps a last minute attempt to include an unnecessary, disregarded virtuosic gift that Norbery hid up his sleeve for the rest of the album. Overall, this is a very strong track and a great soundtrack to an evening drive.
The closing track opens with a soundscape of white noise and lo-fi bits that are slowly covered by an affected organ with a prominent bass line and grinding drum beat. Nomen Novum gives you its most original piece only at the end of ATLANTVM. “Integrity Heights” is what you were waiting for after “Moon Lingerie.” Perhaps more than anywhere else on the album, you can envision the band playing this song live at the 529 next Saturday.
“Whatever’s gonna happen … what if it never happens? Bury me in Lake Lanier.” What a nice ending. It’s mysterious, heavy and hopeless. Perhaps, that’s what the sci-fi films of the ’80s tried to get across and that’s precisely the mood and sentiment that Nomen Novum brings to us on this ambitious full-length album.