Colorful, bright and immediately mood-producing, the first few seconds we hear in Les Nuby’s debut solo album Clouded are defined by the guitar’s melody in “Never Falling Away,” one of the record’s most inspired songs – but not the only track here worth taking a second look at. The hard-charging distortion and glowing vocal harmonies set the pace for the dreamy “Fighting Sleep” and its R.E.M.-style tracklist neighbor “Know What She Said,” and as we get deeper into Clouded, it becomes quite obvious that Nuby isn’t interested in breaking off a typical indie rock affair in this rookie solo offering. He wants to explore the depth of his songwriting abilities with us in the passenger seat, and though it’s a little more of the college side of the dial, the subsequent set of songs here is anything but unfocused.
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“Now It’s On” is a little simpler than the textured “Come to Us” is, but neither track is devoid of personality and genuine emotion coming through both the lyrics and the music. “Hey Ivey,” the first acoustic number we come across in Clouded, scales back the pyrotechnics in favor of exhibiting a more virtuosic harmony from Les Nuby that I definitely wouldn’t have expected to hear just a couple of songs earlier in the tracklist. His heart is on his sleeve in this record, and even with the mountains of fuzz that sit between his voice and the actual core of the instrumental melodies in tracks like “Know What She Said,” it never feels like there’s any barrier between artist and audience in this album.
“Standing Still” starts off like a quiet ballad before evolving into an eruptive anthem as steeped in amplifier worship as any of the other rockers here are. “OK Let’s Try” is similarly vicious in its use of discordant melodicism to highlight the versatility of our leading man’s vocal, but there isn’t any external fluff thrown into the mix. We’re getting all the brawn and bite that Nuby can muster from within the confines of four studio walls, and while I haven’t any doubts as to whether or not his live performances would probably put this to shame, there’s no getting around the fact that Clouded has a sonic intensity almost as powerful as an in-person experience.
With an additional ballad in “Say Love” and the blistering closer “The Shadowlands” serving as the last pair of tunes in this ten-song tracklist, Clouded comes to a conclusion and leaves its audience with as many questions about Les Nuby as it does answers. There’s a lot of different directions he could take his sound in following the release of this record; from the looks of the acoustic material, he’s as adept at traditional singer/songwriter melodies as he is the Sugar-esque jams like “The Shadowlands,” “Know What She Said” and “OK Let’s Try.” He’s got a lot of options moving forward, but no matter what kind of an album he records as a follow-up to this debut, I plan on giving it a spin.