When considering buying tickets for Nilüfer Yanya’s March show at Manchester’s Band On The Wall, I was surprised to see that they were available for a lowly £12. And that it wasn’t a sellout. At the time that Miss Universe was released in 2019 it had felt like everyone and their mother were talking about Nilüfer, had granted her star status, and I would have expected her to have been playing in bigger venues at greatly inflated prices.
While I might have overestimated the size of her audience, there can be no doubting the passion people who did love her debut have for that record. I always found that hype a little odd. For me, Miss Universe was a record full of promise and obvious talent – but it was a little too patchy and overlong to make sense to me in the way it did to others.
So I went into Painless with both hope and trepidation. It felt like a record that would either leave me no longer interested in her future career, or joining hands with those who herald her as a star. Luckily for me, it was the latter. It only took a couple of listens for me to be convinced that, on her sophomore LP, Nilüfer has ironed out all the things I saw as problems on LP one. It is no longer patchy, for example. It has a much shorter tracklisting and this time each track earns its place. It also feels like a much more cohesive whole this time, with the songs feeling like they bleed into each other, structured perfectly to weave you through from beginning to end (multiple times, if you’re anything like me).
Another major improvement, for me at least, comes with how the record subtly changes the tone of Nilüfer’s music. Miss Universe often felt like it was striving to be the perfect summer record, but on Painless we are treated to some light and shade. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is a dark album, but it does let some powerful gloom hang heavy over songs such as the gorgeous ‘midnight sun.’ This is also one of several songs which suggests where some of that gloomier influence may have come from, as it is hard to hear songs such as this one, ‘trouble’, and ‘try’ without making comparisons to Radiohead – particularly on In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool. I don’t say that to suggest this album is derivative of my favourite band, though – more that when hearing the guitar tone, the song progressions, and the percussion of these songs (and others) I find it hard to imagine that those records hadn’t been played regularly during their creation. This can only be a good thing in my eyes – if you are going to take influence from somewhere (and everybody does) it may as well be from the best.
My favourite song on the album is actually the one that most suggests this comparison. The build of percussion, the tone of the guitars, and the way the instruments interact, may make ‘stabilise’ sound quite a lot like ‘Weird Fishes’ but Nilüfer brings an entirely different performance to the vocals. Her singing style can seem very laid back, almost nonchalant at times, but here that works really well – her measured tone contrasting the skittish and chaotic beat perfectly.
I’ll finish by making it clear that, despite the obvious links and influences on this record, Painless is an album that definitely marks Nilüfer out as her own artist with her own style. She melds this gloomier side with an amazing ability as an indie pop performer which makes songs like ‘belong with you’ and ‘anotherlife’ really fly.
She is clearly a meticulous musician too, as the tone of each instrument is carefully crafted to make the whole sound here. And after attending that ridiculously cheap Manchester gig, I can guarantee that she works with a set of equally talented musicians who deserve credit for the work they’ve done on this LP. I haven’t heard many opinions from those who loved Miss Universe yet, but as someone who liked but didn’t adore it, Painless is a huge step forward that elevates its maker to a place among the most exciting young artists around today.
Words by Fran Slater