Canadian artist Nuela Charles first made her mark with debut album Aware in 2012, channeling an alternative-soul sound that she again showcases on this compact, seven-track follow-up, The Grand Hustle, released in November 2016. A cohesive work from start to finish that blends multiple musical styles (including hints of rock and electronic), the album sees Nuela Charles developing uplifting messages for a stimulating journey of growth.
Opening track “Crumbling Down” is a moving first showing that melds pop and alternative, using soft, melancholic violin and piano alongside march-like drums and a thundering chorus. The production doesn't overshadow the good variation and pacing with Charles' vocals, while the lyrics metaphorically paint the picture of someone hampered by a breach of trust:
All the life I held inside me/ now dust beneath your feet
This backbone of melancholy is furthered in standout track “Curtain Falls.” Here, Charles reflects on fear and avoided truth against an initially modest, piano-led backdrop. Charles stutters her words in the first verse, a format she breaks during the subsequent verse as though in symbol of renewed clarity. The chorus is a rousing section boosted by nimble strings and impassioned vocals:
I'm standing as the curtain falls/ We don't wanna be the one to fake it/ we just wanna be the one to take it all
The album’s catchiest song, “Fever,” ticks and stomps with guitar interspersed. Although lacking an original hook, the song works despite its limited range thanks to the momentum supplied by the production and how Charles breaks up the repeating lyric “now I cannot fake/it/any/more.”
The production doesn't overshadow the good variation and pacing with Charles' vocals, while the lyrics metaphorically paint the picture of someone hampered by a breach of trust
Self-love anthem “Love Me Like That” features a percussion undercurrent that gives way to guitar riffs, with consistent organ, drum and keyboard becoming more forceful and dancy. Charles' vocals complement the production well—mild during verses yet bold at the chorus. Part of me wishes her voice remained the enduring hero, and the song would’ve been better off without the hanging “don't tame me” lyric. Yet it grabs attention for how it escalates comfortably.
Charles can't be accused of getting stuck in a mode here, for there are more moments of creative movement than those of static sameness. “Coming For You” has a dark tone arising from eerie electronic sounds for what was likely conceived as a sassy about-face, but unfortunately is one of the album’s low points due to forgettable lyrics and vocals that fail to shine. Conversely, album highlight “Evolution” bookends the experience with an adventurous pop blend and thumping beat as Charles sings confidently about her search for internal harmony over brisk, flowing verses (“Seduction so poetic/ destruction so prophetic/ reciting alphabetic reasons not to justify it”) with attractive harmonies. These varied treatments, while not all successful, speak to a focused vision. And if we are to take the closing lyrics at face value, “the fire in [Charles'] eyes” won't be easily doused.