Nilüfer Yanya = Le Tigre + Toro Y Moi + Sonic Youth
Londoner Nilüfer Yanya’s debut album, Miss Universe, drops on the heels of her recent tour-supporting stint with indie-femme phenom, Sharon Van Etten. Miss Universe opens with an unsettling, robotic, spoken-word track unravelling the underlying mental health and identity crises of the modern age. The theme and story of “WWAY Health” underlies the album, an apparent construct of an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–esque wellness service meant to opiate the user and assess their tractability. This refrain is especially salient in the U.K. indie scene, where an increasing skepticism and disenchantment with social media and consumer culture is rising among young millennials.
Next in line is the gritty post-punk, track with volitionally pitchy vocals, of first single “In Your Head,” ringing with a functional paranoia that replays throughout the tracklist. Yanya’s style is rich with eclecticism; funk, Bossa Nova, subtle touches of gritty rock and world music influence, for an all around British indie cornucopia. Delicious guitar riffs and bridges carry the album, perking the ear and eliciting uncontrollable grins, as in “Paralysed.” There’s a prettiness to Yanya’s vocals that offsets the tough, toothy veneer. The dichotomy makes for some pleasant surprises throughout the album that leave the listener on their toes. Tracks like “Baby Blu,” “Heat Rises,” “Safety Net” and “Tears” bring little notes of electronica, R&B and jazz percussion that generate a nice overall mélange.
Seventeen tracks fill Yanya’s debut, a hefty offering for a young, new talent. The list is interspersed with yet more spoken-word callbacks to the opening track, punctuating the punkiness with dystopian reminders of the underlying narrative of the album. Lyrically, Yanya is acerbic and tough, yet tender and transparent—a fitting juxtaposition for her chimeric sound. Slight touches of body horror and sci-fi apocalyptica abound in the talking tracks, making the sweetness of Yanya’s voice a fascinating and disturbing attention grabber.
Yanya is hard to pin down sonically, which makes her extensive first album refreshing and enlightened. Though her vocal style remains fairly constant, she plays within a broad landscape of sound and influences, expressing a cleverness that never feels grandiose or inaccessible. Some songs are smooth, quiet and calm, others are raw and challenging, and some are utterly wild and weird, such as “The Unordained,” the 15th track that sets up the conclusion. Miss Universe closes with yet another spoken word track that veers father into a tone of sardonic existentialism. “Heavyweight Champion of the Year” finishes the collection where Yanya started, with a classic female post-punk vocal paired with a nihilistic narrative that’s matched to a simple guitar riff. For the not faint of heart, Miss Universe will delight, fascinate and perplex … perhaps the best array of responses a modern indie album can hope to elicit. –Paige Zuckerman