Published Mar 19, 2019Mediocrity isn't a term in Nilüfer Yanya's realm. The 23-year-old Londoner has come a long way since her first stints at open mics as a teenager; she now opens for established acts such as Interpol and Sharon Van Etten with her band, who blend elements of soul and melodic rock.
Miss Universe, Yanya's full-length debut, is comprised of songs that find her exploring different avenues of introspection, open-ended questioning, control and paranoia. She has designed a fictional company, WWay Health (We Worry About Your Health) to narrate darkly funny — from the absurd to unnerving — passageways between tracks, interludes that connect this lengthy record.
The album, however, does not suffer under its weight — Yanya has a startling breadth of abilities, her full vocals perfectly nestled in amongst delicate guitar lines reminiscent of the work of her former teacher, the Invisible's Dave Okumu, on songs like "Paralysed."
Yanya showcases her riffs on single "In Your Head," achieving an immediacy as she questions her own thought processes. Her deadpan vocals captivate on "Melt," an album standout whose tender instrumentation joins with disparaging lyrics: "I bet your brain cells won't last, I bet they cling to the trash / I hope they melt on the way back to your place."
Miss Universe never feels limited, its best moments found in gradual changes, whether during Jazzi Bobbi's saxophone inflections, which swoop into "Paradise," or the steady, layered crescendo of "Baby Blu." Pop, too, is a mainstay on the album, heard in the Jessie Ware-esque "Heat Rises," and "Tears," a taut, synth-heavy banger.
Experimenting with co-writers, trying on different guises and identities, and ultimately seeking to capture the ineffability of her experience at this point in life, Miss Universe is an intriguing and smoothly constructed record. Groove and melancholy exist simultaneously in Yanya's work, providing listeners with no single answer to the questions she poses. (ATO Records)