by Bela Omoeva
London-born musician Nilüfer Yanya has long been the kind of artist who those in the know rave about. Yanya started off with singles “Small Crimes” and “Keep on Calling” in 2016, had an incredible 2017 run with the indie pop song “Baby Luv” and the Plant Feed EP, and released the track “Thanks 4 Nothing” in 2018. These previously released songs, “Golden Cage” and “Baby Luv” in particular, shared a distinct self-assurance. Yanya’s music videos, directed by Molly Daniel, were vibrant but moody, with a film-grain sensibility. Gray London buildings and grassy beaches paired well with Yanya’s impassive gaze. As strong as the artist’s singles and EPs are, Yanya seems to be less comfortable with the longer format of an album. Her first album, Miss Universe, featured fanciful interludes from a dystopian healthcare organization, and padded its tracklist with weaker songs like “Monsters Under the Bed.” But trim the fat from Miss Universe, and one would have found Yanya as strong as ever in “Heavyweight Champion of the Year” and “Heat Rises,” with terrific videos to boot. The Feeling Lucky? EP (2020) had the great “Same Damn Luck.” Now, Yanya returns with her second album, PAINLESS, which seems set to continue her status as a critical darling.
The song “stabilise” is the lead single from this album, and pursues a frenetic, rhythmic sound with the echoing, layered vocals typical of Yanya. The accompanying video that depicts her walking among apartment buildings and donning sunglasses is similar to the lo-fi video for “Golden Cage” several years ago, except in HD. PAINLESS continues the habit of Yanya’s albums being growers, compared to the immediate pleasures of her one-off singles, and this time around, she’s done away with interludes. The opener “the dealer” is strong and easy to hum along to, and introduces light, fast guitar instrumentals as a central element of PAINLESS. With their easy, thrumming pace, the stars of the album are “chase me,” “midnight sun,” and “try.” While this change in instrumental style brings a new speed and wavelength to Yanya’s songwriting, it also tends to muffle the open, airy sound found in her previous work. Yanya’s voice can carry a track on its own, but PAINLESS doesn’t quite give it the same chance to rise and expand as before, with seemingly more focus given to the lyrics themselves. The album’s cohesiveness is a strength and a weakness; on one hand, it shows the specificity of its vision, and on the other, it feels almost as if a briefer format like an EP would have suited this new sound better. PAINLESS is a step forward from Miss Universe, but it’s clear more time is needed for Yanya’s flourishing talent to take center stage.