How can an album designed precisely to elicit strong feelings make a listener feel like they’re hearing something else entirely? Like the best art, PAINLESS, the new album from Nilüfer Yanya, plays on expectations while working within them, memorably balancing restraint and release. The songs are quiet, as delicate and cracked as porcelain, but they’re riddled with minute details that enhance the visceral impact. Each track is like an anatomy of loss and malaise—a repetitive mantra or an evocative musical surge of frustration or rage. It’s not that any one detail is so affecting; it’s the cumulative effect of one small flourish after another.
Where her debut album, Miss Universe, bounces and ripples with indie attitude, Yanya’s bell-clear voice cutting through loud drums, PAINLESS is a completely different animal. The opener “the dealer” is built on a jagged breakbeat that sounds like it was found in a skip somewhere, over which Yanya sings in a moody mumble. It’s an unusual start to an album, but the effect is startling.
Overall, the album’s sound is one of cool understatement. The vocals, are poised in a breathy, vulnerable middle register. The subtle details that repay repeat listening include the vocal layers in “L/R”; the brief moments of piano within “shameless”; and various shifts in the texture of the backing on “belong with you.” Yanya’s breathy voice is deployed with confidence, grounding her lyrics in a tough, nonchalant mumble that feels cool, settling into a space between vulnerability and strength. The falsetto hits hard as well—for instance, on “chase me”.
PAINLESS is a record that embodies the phrase “less is more”. There is a directness and minimalism to Yanya’s music on this album that makes it feel as though nothing is being wasted. It’s clear that she has refined her sound and honed in on what truly matters, which makes the listening experience all the more enjoyable.
Yanya is a real songwriting powerhouse. Her emotional range is as vast as her body of work, spanning heartache to intimate recollections. On PAINLESS, she puts it all on display in the most enchanting way possible. This is an album chock full of melodies you can’t get enough of, and harmony that envelopes you in a warm and fuzzy blanket of sound.