Updated: Jun 12
Nilüfer Yanya chats 80s computer manuals, airplanes and new album, PAINLESS
Nilüfer Yanya’s second album, PAINLESS, is another reason to call her one of alternative rock’s most inventive and talented names right now. At her recent Bristol show, the introspective West Londoner reflected on the deliberate yet intuitive process of curating the album’s distinct sound, with the help of collaborator and producer Will Archer. “The way me and Will were working, we didn’t even really talk about it too much, but we kind of knew the sound we wanted. And it was something we had been working towards for a while. And we finally kind of got there, which was really nice.”
The elusive, enigmatic PAINLESS is an exercise in leaning into liminal spaces. Tracks follow on from one another like a blind tossing of the duvet to instinctively flip yourself into a new sleep phase at untold hours in the night. The restless, scrambling tone captured on ‘the dealer’ is an obstinate desire to evade an inevitable sleep. ‘shameless’ is a beautiful dreamscape, a slow walk along a shore. ‘stabilise’ is an abrupt break out of night sweats. The grudging meander and tightly wound verse of ‘midnight sun’ is an unending period of lying awake, thousands of seconds passing by utterly wasted, before a venture out onto a violently cold balcony at the song’s explosive end release. ‘trouble’ captures the stillness and bliss of a deep sleep state, gliding through the night. And the album’s closer, ‘anotherlife’, is a slow, resigned start to a morning, an acceptance of desperation given the next night will likely be as turbulent.
Nilüfer sees her second album as less abstract than her previous, Miss Universe, and more upfront too. “When I listen to [Miss Universe] now I’m like: This makes no sense. What was I smoking? And I think the concept thing covered up a lot of the subtlety. But with this one I didn’t bother to hide anything.” It’s true that PAINLESS emphasises directness and rawness, though that’s not to discredit Nilüfer’s debut. An album that I’ve been raving about since its release, Miss Universe is eclectic, rich, and clean – an iconic, lemon meringue cheesecake of an alternative rock album. Before my conversation with Nilüfer, I might have overcomplicated that ‘rock’ genre classification, stressing the soul, jazz and pop influences as well as her distinct and kaleidoscopic cadence that feels like a genre in and of itself. Her view is straightforward: “I feel like ‘rock’ sums it up. Because rock is soul influenced and has so many other influences in it. I guess modern influences play into it too so maybe ‘alternative rock’. I couldn’t call it ‘soul’ because that would take up other people’s space. But the genre doesn’t really matter anyway, does it.”
"Maybe everything had always been that weird and I was only just realising how weird it was. Or I only just found a way to like, show how I find it weird. It was just about how in modern life, especially in a city, you just really never know what's going on.”
Nuance often seems transparent to Nilüfer, unfazed by weirdness and ambiguity. She sees it all enough to know that a studying or overthinking approach to things can rarely hold up to the emotive approach she takes in her music. Simplicity is a best-case reflection, attempts to do more sure to fall short. When I asked about the interludes on Miss Universe, that imagine an automated wellness programme called ‘WWAY HEALTH’, Nilüfer said she was inspired by the retro vibe of an 80s computer manual she found at a goodwill store in LA. “The songs were recorded at different times and in different places so I wanted to tie the album together somehow […] I feel like [the interludes] summed up how I was feeling at that time. Like everything was getting a bit too weird. Or maybe everything had always been that weird and I was only just realising how weird it was. Or I only just found a way to like, show how I find it weird. It was just about how in modern life, especially in a city, you just really never know what's going on.”
Nilüfer Yanya’s multifaceted sound is food for diverse and brilliant re-interpretations. Tracks from her EPs have been remixed by the likes of Bullion, ALASKALASKA and Little Dragon. When I asked which remix has been her favourite, she was quick to respond – keiyaA’s remix of ‘Day 7.5093’ from last year’s Feeling Lucky? EP. The alternative R&B artist takes the track in a dreamier direction, trading the guitar licks for synthy, grooving drum break samples.
Feeling Lucky? is an appropriate pre-cursor to Nilüfer’s sound on PAINLESS and features one of her catchiest tracks, ‘Crash’. The track, created over an extended period spanning a tour and a lockdown, was inspired by the mundanity in having to continuously re-explain yourself and the “weirdness of airplanes”. Nilüfer’s mention of airplanes brought up another collaboration – the distorted ‘Small Crimes’ vocal sample on King Krule’s ‘Airport Antenatal Airplane’. “He messaged me from a random Facebook account, so obviously I thought it was fake. This was back in 2016, when people still used Facebook. And he just asked if I had any acapella vocals, so I just sent him the vocals from that song because it was the only song I had recorded. So, we were just messing around remixing it for a long time and then he finally used it.” The interaction somehow makes complete sense, simultaneously intuitive and esoteric, like Nilüfer’s music itself – those liminal spaces she sits at home in are honest, albeit fleeting. Fleeting and painless.
Listen to my full interview with Nilüfer Yanya below, and go stream PAINLESS when you're done.