On her second album Painless, English guitarist-singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya tips her basket of ideas into new pools that ripple with mid-paced breakbeats, string-laced bridges, and nonchalantly brilliant melodies at their core. She spoke to Zoë Radas.
In black vinyl pants, rimless glasses, hair pulled into a tight pony, Nilüfer Yanya wanders the streets of London. But it’s the angel wings she wears – pink and downy and strapped on with a thick black harness, clipped across the collarbone and waist – that stamp this young artist’s formidable divinity.
The wings, created for this album cycle’s first single and clip Midnight Sun, are the perfect symbol for the sound Yanya conjures: delicate and aerial for sure, but with a backbone of such deceptive strength it’s practically military.
“I had the idea on the album artwork,” she says over the phone, and it’s true – on the cover of upcoming sophomore album Painless, a high-rise facade bears a banner with a hoodied Yanya sporting enormous flamingo wings. “I just thought it would be fun to try and recreate them,” she shrugs with a smile, adding that they were created by her friends Jenna and Joviale (themselves interidisciplinary artists).
The song itself slots acoustic guitar into mid-paced hipshot drums up front, and its chorus lyrics – “You’re my best machine, you’re my midnight sun” – are bewitchingly weird. “I’d never have just one meaning behind a lyric,” she tells us. “The good lyrics always have loads of different possible meanings, even to me. When I’m writing them, I don’t know what I’m writing about. And I don’t plan to write the things that I write. It’s still quite abstract at that stage. Then, when you play or sing it back, maybe that’s when you attach a meaning.”
Yanya’s delivery has always invited question moreso than answer. From her acclaimed debut of 2019 Miss Universe (read our review here) to last year’s assemblage of various EP materials (Inside Out), the English artist seems to whip thin air into effortless, breathy melodies that tuck themselves into your brain with sometimes only a guitar line to affix them.
But on Painless, you’ll find those sonic zephyrs anchored with beautifully broken beats; see opener The Dealer and singles Stabilise and Midnight Sun, whose drums play around The Crystal Method and Massive Attack corners of trip hop.
“It’s a record about emotion,” she says of the album. “I think it’s more open… in a way that Miss Universe wasn’t. I’m not as scared to admit my feelings.”
Painless was recorded at Yanya’s uncle’s home studio in the salt-swept coastal town of Cornwall – the same place Yanya recorded her first ever song at age 16, and where she has since recorded all her music. Now 26, in past interviews she’s touched on her steadily growing on-stage poise, while also acknowledging the emergence of a greater shyness. “I’ve probably gone backwards, in the pandemic,” she laughs of her current confidence-status. “When you’re not doing those things anymore, they get more scary. So, I’m scared about going on tour next month. Sometimes I go to bed at night and go, ‘Why! Why am I doing this?!’ Or, you know when you’re still half-asleep, then you wake up and you remember what you’ve got to do, and you’re like, ‘Ahhh, oh my god!’
“But it’s going to be fun. I’ll be sad if it doesn’t happen, so that says something.”
Painless by Nilüfer Yanya is out March 4 via ATO Records.
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