It does not take long listening to West London-based singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya’s music to realise that playing by the rules has never been her forte. Starting with Small Crimes in 2016, her early releases set the stage for Yanya’s artistry as a lo-fi bedroom pop artist who could spin deftly weaved guitars and honeyed vocals into earworm melodies. Her brand of heartfelt indie pop led to support slots playing alongside likeminded artists such as Mitski, The xx, and Sharon Van Etten, along with receiving a litany of accolades including being longlisted for BBC Sound of 2018.
By the time her debut album Miss Universe landed in 2019, Yanya had fully established herself as a singular artist with a distinctive voice that needed to be heard. The critically acclaimed debut is an 18-track concept record that takes a tongue in cheek swipe at the most self-involved corners of the health and wellness industry. The album allowed Yanya to further open up her eclectic world, bringing in jazz-inflected guitar licks, and grunge indebted songs that were backed up by limber drum beats and noughties leaning synth lines.
Yanya is running head first into the depths of emotional vulnerability on her sophomore record PAINLESS. The album was recorded between a basement studio in Stoke Newington and Riverfish Music in Penzance with Miss Universe collaborator and producer Wilma Archer, DEEK Recordings founder Bullion, Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, and musician Jazzi Bobbi.
Yanya began considering the album back in 2020 after coming home from a year-long headline tour for her debut. Initially she worried about the mistakes she didn’t want to repeat from making her first record. “Obviously I was really proud of it,” she says of her debut album, “but I also could have done it differently, there wasn’t a rush.” The anxieties that clouded the making of her debut were gone when she got back in the studio with Archer. “It just happened a lot more organically. [Archer] had all these amazing ideas and they were so easy to turn into songs. It just felt fun.”
Where Miss Universe stretched musical boundaries to include a litany of styles from smooth jazz melodies to radio ready pop, PAINLESS takes a more direct sonic approach. By narrowing down her previously broad palette to a handful of robust ideas that revolve around melancholy harmonies and looped industrial beats to mimic the insular focus of the lyrics, Yanya has smoothed out the sonic textures of previous releases without losing what is essential to her.
PAINLESS is a record that forces the listener to sit with the discomfort that accompanies so many of life’s biggest challenges whether it be relationship breakdowns, coping with loneliness, or the search for our inner self. “It’s a record about emotion,” Yanya explains. “I think it’s more open about that in a way that Miss Universe wasn’t because there’s so many cloaks and sleeves with the concept I built around it.” She adds, summing up the ethos of the new album, “I’m not as scared to admit my feelings”.
The organic way the songs came together was partly an inspiration behind the album title PAINLESS, but it also harkened to the introspective theme of the album. “The lyric [in ‘shameless’] is ‘until you fall its painless’. It’s not that everything is painless, it’s that pain is not a bad thing.”
Although PAINLESS is about trudging through the mires of our emotional selves, the writing process left Yanya feeling more confident in her abilities as a songwriter. “It made me feel really good to make it and to write it and put it out.”
In the making of the album her growth is evident to see. “I’m a completely different person. It’s hard to know where the growth is. I think it’s about the openness of the record. Even feeling comfortable sharing my process with another person.”
She continues: “On the last record I didn’t want to work too much with one person because I thought it’s going to become their record, and that’s just rubbish. I think sharing [the process] is a really beautiful thing. You don’t always come by that. You really have to work on that, so this album is very much a product of that creative friendship.”
Release: March 4th, 2022, ATO Records/[PIAS]