One of the most consistently refreshing things about London singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya, is just how effortlessly she can float between genres, and still be impossible to pin down. This is best demonstrated on her vastly eclectic 2019 debut ‘Miss Universe’, which pulled from an expansive mood board of sonic influences – from jazz arrangements and synthy pop to indie-riffs and alt-rock – but still yielded something truly original. While it was met with wide critical acclaim, Yanya has since spoken of feeling that she “could have done it differently”.
But any regrets that lingered from her debut have been channelled into the singer’s most dynamic work yet on sophomore effort ‘PAINLESS’. The “rush” that she insisted was missing from ‘Miss Universe’ has been replaced with a full-on sprint, displaying a new self-assurance in the universality of the vulnerabilities that she tackles, achieved by leaning into her very best qualities.
Diving in with a renewed sense of purpose, ‘the dealer’ sets the scene with a percussive urgency that could rival Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’, easing into layers of pensive guitar chords and syncopated bass. ‘stabilise’ brings a similar energy, using brisk snares and agile guitar notes to create claustrophobic panic and existential dread (“There’s nothing out there / For you and me / I’m going nowhere”). Reflecting on the mundanity of city living, she effortlessly alternates between husky sing-speak on verses to flexed vocal melodies on the chorus.
Grungier moments can be found in the dense, Nirvana-influenced riffs of ‘chase me’, while she’s equally capable of maintaining momentum with the bare, whispery vocals of ‘trouble’. The album’s unpredictable pace is best displayed in the ghostly synths and shuffled vocals on closing track ‘anotherlife’, which, although appearing romantic on the surface, actually conveys deep anguish (“I’ll do anything”). This lyrical ambiguity is a recurring ploy, whether it’s subverting the ostensive affection in track title ‘belong with you’ (inspired by t.A.T.u.’s ‘All The Things She Said’), or the interchangeable meanings on the bleak, trip-hop beats of ‘midnight sun’.
Nostalgic ambience also flows throughout, in part due to the breadth of masterful guitar work. “People already assume you’re gonna be crap,” the singer said of her string skills in her digital cover interview with The Forty-Five. “So you have to push even harder.” Her instrumentals are unmissable on ‘PAINLESS’, drawing influence from the likes of Radiohead and Elliot Smith. Yanya also explores her roots by playing a saz in ‘L/R’, a Turkish string instrument she was introduced to by her father as a child.
‘PAINLESS’ sees Yanya shed the thematic ambiguity of her first album and instead puts more vulnerable parts of herself forward. In her most purposeful work yet, the singer-songwriter has tightened up the nuts and bolts and shaken off the excess. Unafraid to linger on darker moments, ‘PAINLESS’ refines the standout qualities of her debut and reinvents them with a new sheen.