Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Nilüfer Yanya PAINLESS


Nilüfer Yanya is a world-builder. Every song that the British musician has released feels like its own pocket of energy. Her music is a pleasure to live inside for a while, dripping in icy textures and moods. It can also sometimes be hard to grasp, vaporous and shadowy and in its own head. But get on Yanya’s wavelength and you’ll soon realize that she’s one of the best out there right now making these sort of technically impressive, emotionally expressive rock songs. They might sound unassuming, but they’re immaculately constructed. They don’t hit you over the head with hooks (at least not that often), but they contain hypnotic loops that will get stuck in your head anyway. Yanya’s sophomore album PAINLESS is intentionally minimal, and it makes you want to sink into every second. I hate to say it but … it’s a vibe.

Compared to her 2019 debut album Miss Universe, PAINLESS is even more singular. Yanya’s formula hasn’t changed drastically — the typical recipe includes some to-die-for interlocking guitars, dry percussion, a voice that modulates between hushed and pained — but her sophomore album is more restrained and focused. Miss Universe came along with a whole conceit, sketches threaded throughout the album that tied everything back to an overarching theme of self-help. It felt like a first-album crutch, a way to make a bunch of disparate ideas work together. But Yanya doesn’t need all that. PAINLESS is evidence that she can create a whole series of sustained mood pieces and be successful because every song is so distinctly her. It feels like Yanya is more sure of herself this time around, and maybe because of that she eschews some of the poppier moments from her debut. There are few songs here as immediately forceful as something like “In Your Head” or “Baby Blu.” Think instead of tracks like Miss Universe closer and highlight “Heavyweight Champion Of The World,” which was meandering but powerfully intoxicating in its own right.

Well, and then there’s “stabilise,” the lead single from PAINLESS and one of the best pop songs Yanya has ever put out. It’s itchy and explosive, with snaking guitars and frantic drums that build to a shouted-out chorus: “There’s nothing out there/ For you and me/ I’m going nowhere/ Until it bleeds.” But the exquisite drama of that moment is offset by the verses, in which Yanya whispers about growing up and feeling unsure of herself. The latter headspace is where the album more often lingers. PAINLESS is more subdued and mellow than its predecessor. The music tends to mirror Yanya’s sung-out tendencies. These songs are heady and insular; they often sound like an internal monologue in which Yanya is trying to justify her actions and feelings to herself. Yanya has said that she wanted to place more emphasis on her lyrics this time around, and these songs allow her to do that — they’re more sparse and aching and hollow than the Miss Universe material. That might result in a dour album for anyone that doesn’t have Yanya’s melodic sensibilities, but her voice and delivery has a way of drawing you in and making you want to stick around.

The songs on PAINLESS tend toward the heartsick. Yanya sings about being left behind in her relationships, not speaking up for herself, sublimating her own desire for someone else’s needs. On “L/R,” amid playful pans to the left and right, she sounds resigned and ready to lock-step with someone else, following their lead to her detriment. “Whatever makes you happy,” she sings. “Don’t think I’ll ever know/ Take me out to the beach/ Taking off all your clothes/ Whatever makes you happy.” She has a way with a sighed-out hook, like that song’s “sometimes it feels like you’re so violent autopilot.” Or the chorus of “shameless,” which sees Yanya ready to do whatever it takes to maintain a connection: “When you call, it’s shameless/ In these four walls I’m faithless/ Like when you call me graceless/ Until you fall, it’s painless.” “You can hurt me/ If you feel like,” she sings. “If it feels good/ Then I’m alright.” Yanya recognizes throughout her songs that this prostration isn’t necessarily healthy, but she’s afraid by what might happen if she does let loose. “Troubled don’t count the ways I’m broken/ Your troubles won’t count, not once we’ve spoken,” she sings on one track. “What troubles me now if I tear this open/ Some people won’t have the faintest notion.”

These interior struggles play out against a backdrop that’s murmuring and sorrowful but also constantly shifting and effortlessly cool. Yanya’s intricately assembled worlds never stay around for too long — her songs, however much they sound like they’re circling the drain, don’t stay in one place. They’re populated by brilliant but fleeting ideas. Take “midnight sun,” where the grungy guitar that propels the track suddenly shifts to an acoustic, or “belong to you,” which blooms from a jazzy swirl into a staticky rush of noise, or the slip-sliding queasiness that makes “try” so mesmerizing. All these moments are sensational on their own, and just as quickly they’re gone. Yanya adopts a less-is-more approach on PAINLESS. Every sound feels intentional. But though her songs are only made up of a few moving parts at a time, she makes sure that each of those parts is spectacular. PAINLESS is a showcase for Yanya’s immense talents, a moodboard for how many different ways she can render the same sort of hurt.

PAINLESS is out 3/4 via ATO.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Band Of Horses’ Things Are Great
• Guided By Voices’ Crystal Nuns Cathedral
• The Weather Station’s How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars
• Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs’ External Combustion
• RZA’s Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater
• Stromae’s Multitude
• The Cool Kids’ Before Shit Got Weird: Episode 1
• King Von’s posthumous What It Means To Be King
•’s This World Is Going To Ruin You
• Kristine Leschper’s The Opening, Or Closing Of A Door
• supernowhere’s Skinless Takes A Flight
• Ilhan Ersahin, Dave Harrington, & Kenny Wollesen’s Invite Your Eye
• Melissa Aldana’s 12 Stars
• Kaina’s It Was A Home
• Stereophonics’ Oochya!
• El Ten Eleven’s New Year’s Eve
• Peach Pit’s From 2 To 3
• Crowbar’s Zero And Below
• Wounded Touch’s AMERICANXIETY
• Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Ghost Song
• Nashvillains’s Tumbling Down
• Matisyahu’s self-titled album
• Diplo’s self-titled album
• Dolly Parton’s Run, Rose, Run, the musical accompaniment to her mystery novel with James Patterson
• Tinashe’s 333 deluxe edition
• BENEE’s Lychee EP
• Madi Diaz’s Same History, New Feelings EP
• Baseline’s Landfill EP

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