Nilüfer Yanya’s ‘Painless’ is a beautifully crafted, sonic exploration

Nilüfer Yanya’s third record continues her penchant for genre-bending whilst oozing a more refined, coherent artistic identity.

Painless is a banging indie-pop record, encapsulating so much of what we love about the admittedly nebulous genre.

Nilüfer Yanya lives, much like on previous releases Inside Out and Miss Universe, within this murky ambiguity, delivering a delicious blend of 90’s grunge and alternative, dreamy 80’s soft rock, contemporary indie rock, industrial hip-hop and lo-fi inspired beats, all overlaid with dynamic pop vocals.

Credit: Kyle Fensom

Yanya’s debut, an ambitious 18 track concept album titled Miss Universe, landed in 2019 and saw the young Londoner met with well deserved critical acclaim. Miss Universe was openly concept driven which, whilst it provided a cleverly crafted tongue in cheek swipe at the self-indulgent health and wellness industry, allowed plenty of dark recesses to hide personal exploration. 

Painless is more introspective, emotional, and personal. Its lyrical palette, contributed to by dark vocal melodies, is abstract in a way which, rather than reaching for vacuous pseudo-poetics, invites the listener to feel rather than know.

Wary of repeating the same mistakes as in Miss Universe, Yanya began considering Painless in 2020. Of her first album, Yanya admits she’s, “Obviously […] really proud of it, but I also could have done it differently, there wasn’t a rush.” Previous collaborator and producer Wilma Archer’s presence was obviously critical. Yanya explains that he “had all these amazing ideas and they were so easy to turn into songs. It just felt fun.”

This type of consecutive, purposeful writing is indelibly felt on Painless which is less a debutants sonic resume and more symptomatic of a master honing her craft.

The album was recorded between a basement studio in Stoke Newington and Riverfish Music in Penzance (owned by her uncle Joe Dworniak a former bassist in funk band I Level), with Miss Universe collaborator and producer Wilma Archer, DEEK Recordings founder Bullion, Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, and musician Jazzi Bobbi.

Stabilise is a standout, immediately ear catching through its fast pace and sharp metallic drum machine opening. Acoustic drums summon an infectiously head bopping grove accompanied by some dissonant guitar arpeggiations and husky speak/sing vocals. It’s definitely punky in its aggression, hitting especially hard after Shameless which washes over and satisfies like an 80’s dream pop tune you’ve heard before. The chorus of Stabilise chants: “There’s nothing out there / For you and me / I’m going nowhere,” capturing the claustrophobia of city living. To this end Yanya observes that, “I was really thinking about your surroundings and how much they influence or change your perception of things. A lot of the city is just grey and concrete, there’s no escape.”

The fifth track, Chase Me, summons big Cardigans vibes with its darkness, acoustic guitars, crunched bass, and slightly phased pop vocals. This sits satisfyingly atop a grumbly, industrial UK hip-hop inspired beat. The lyrics are largely obfuscated by the fatness of the beat, though there is a sense of resignation in the repetition of “feels like” and “already“.

Trouble is another track with hip-hop ladened breaks. Both the chorus and post-chorus bridge are so satisfying and ear-wormy. The bridge’s open strummed acoustic is unexpected and undeniably grunge influenced. The vocals here, however, are so clean, sweet, and cathartic. “You’re my best machine, you’re my midnight sun, always I did it for ya,” begs to be echoed by raptured crowds.

Yanya closes the album with the lovely anotherlife. Its graceful synths, delicately echoed plucked guitars, and vocal delivery remind of fellow Londoner, Westerman. As a single, anotherlife was accompanied with a visually stunning, albeit awkwardly performed, video clip. “I spend a lot of days with these thoughts/ keep em locked away I can’t stop/ in some kinda way I am lost/ in another life I was not,” communicates a wistful regret and sense of heartache. This desperation is furthered with the repetition of “I’ll do anything.” It is a beautiful way to conclude the album.

Painless is full of bangers with each and every song worthy of their own single. As a less of conceptual effort, whilst remaining chock-full of varying genre inflections, Yanya’s sophomore LP suffers no lack of cohesion. Indeed, the opposite is true – We’ll be listening for a while to come.