“I kind of like the distance,” admits Nilüfer Yanya on ‘Crash’, the first single from her new EP ‘Feeling Lucky?’. She penned the track before the pandemic, but it could easily refer to Yanya’s take on this year – and it’s refreshing to hear from somebody who doesn’t mind a bit of solitude and space. Releasing music in 2020 is a strange affair, but removing a lot of the ephemera around new material – press, shows, shoots – has at least given artists more time to focus closely on their art. There’s less pressure, particularly on an EP rather than an album – and Yanya’s no stranger to the EP format, releasing a brilliant string of them before her highly acclaimed 2019 debut LP, ‘Miss Universe’.
This year, just as for everybody else, Yanya’s universe shrank. And though ‘Miss Universe’s eighteen songs also shrink to just three on ‘Feeling Lucky?’, the new EP doesn’t sound any smaller. Where her debut was lightly conceptual, here she’s looser and more immediate, refining the sound that won over listeners last year: husky jams fed through a scuzzed-up filter, guitar that both snarls and charms, and undercurrents of pure attitude. These are songs that gaze up from beneath hooded eyelids.
Yanya’s trick is to fill a song’s world with a particular mood that engulfs you completely, before words, chords, or production. Opening song ‘Crash’, co-written and produced by Nick Hakim, communicates aeroplane anxiety, but the song’s edgy turbulence goes beyond that. Her vocals – like Liz Phair layered on top of Tracy Chapman – soar and dive against heavy curtains of guitar. “I believe in conversations, I believed your lies / I believe in relevations,” she sings, and whether this aberration of ‘revelation’ is deliberate or not, it plays nicely on the idea of elevation, flight, and crashing. She’s perfectly poised on the brink: this isn’t fear of flying, it’s fear of losing control, hovering on the precipice of chance, running out of luck.
Yanya dials down the anxious mood on second song ‘Same Damn Luck’, which also centres on luck’s underestimated role in life. Buoyed by satisfying eighties-style production, it’s unclear if this same damn luck is good or bad, heightened by the ambiguous closing refrain, “Don’t miss you / Miss you”. But ‘Feeling Lucky?’ reaches its peak on final song ‘Day 7.5093’. Guitar and vocals are inseparable, her voice tumbling from high to low. “Heaven is day / Seven and I’m home,” she begins, and everything is contained in that pause between ‘day’ and ‘seven’: how easy it’s been to lose count of the days this year, but also how much power lies in the spaces Yanya opens up in her songs.
‘Feeling Lucky?’ ends in a cavalcade of jackpot bleeps, reminiscent of the Vegas field recordings on Arcade Fire’s ‘Put Your Money On Me’. It’s a blatant reinforcement of the EP’s driving theme, but less an eye-roll, more a knowing wink, as if to acknowledge uncertainty and say, “so what? Let the chips fall where they may.” ‘Feeling Lucky?’ doesn’t miss a trick: it builds excitingly on ‘Miss Universe’, shorter but noisier, freer and self-assured, a reminder of Nilüfer Yanya’s talent, and a tantalising glimpse into whatever her future may hold.