Nilüfer Yanya - Miss Universe

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Nilüfer Yanya has spent the past handful of years garnering online buzz with a string of EPs and enticing singles such as “Baby Luv” and “Thanks 4 Nothing.” While there were glimmers of intrigue in her earliest tunes, it felt like she was still holding back her full potential. It was not until now, with a cohesive and complete project, was she able to showcase the full urgency of her singular brand of minimalist guitar pop. Yanya is not beholden to any specific genre or sound as she effortlessly moves in and out of jazz, soul, pop, RnB, and nods to trip-hop. Those ingredients would make for an exciting sound by themselves, but her sound is made complete as she incorporates her affinity for spiky indie rock bands like Bloc Party, The Strokes, and The Libertines. Live she often performs a sparse, downtempo rendition of the Pixie’s classic hit “Hey.”

Nilüfer’s arrangements are most often constructed around vocals, hazy electric guitar, drum machines, and lustrous synths. Much of the time, her music is stripped down even more than – relying just on her guitar to back her up. The lead single “In Your Head” is a straightforward rocker held together by blown-up and guitar fuzz and subtly distorted vocals. It’s one of the more jagged tunes in her arsenal that features a viscerally emotional chorus. While that song relied on texture, it is followed up by the sultrier “Paralyzed.” Yanya shows off her guitar chops on the jazzy instrumental bridge, making way for a screeching solo.

 Five satirical sketches help formulate the album’s core themes. Yanya poses as an operator for WWAY Health (We Worry About Your Health), a self-care hotline. These advertisements parody the many ways society promises quick, temporary fixes to bolster ones sense of self-image. But as her sketches illuminate, these trendy diets and skin creams often only function for vanity’s sake, never getting deep enough to medicate the intricacies of human psyche and personal insecurities.

She has a knack for crafting soulful choruses. On “Baby Blu” her simmering synths and steady 808 drum patterns make way for resounding layered harmonies. The thoroughly gorgeous “Tears” put her vocal range on full display on the most electronic and dance oriented cut on the record. The melodies on this tune are irresistible.  Yanya knows when to throw in subtle instrumental touches without ever making her tunes too busy. Sparseness is her calling card, which makes certain elements more pronounced. Take for example the sweet saxophone swells on “Melt” or the glistening blues licks on “The Unordained.”

Nilùfer can effortlessly switch from her intoxicating swoon to a more cutting, ragged delivery, often on the same track. Such is the case on the album highlight and closer “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.” For the majority of the track, Yanya sings over choppy distorted strums while interjecting moments of more violent guitar attacks and shouted lyrics. While slowly building, the song climaxes into a rupturing chorus that introduces massive clashing drums and Yanya’s soaring falsetto. It’s a magical moment of pure catharsis.

Yanya’s solo debut astonishes with intimacy that leaves room for euphoric moments that are never contrived. Her wide range of influences take the listener on a fulfilling, rarely dull journey. At just 23, it still feels as if we haven’t heard Yanya at her best. Miss Universe, however, is a superb step in that direction.

 

Grade: A

Matt Marciniec