The trend of young and extremely talented musicians emerging from London, UK continues. The daughter of two visual artists, 23-year-old Nilüfer Yanya grew up in West London. From her mother playing classical music and her father playing traditional turkish music, to her older sister who would listen primarily to skater rock bands like Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy, Yanya’s head was filled with music from around the world ever since a young age. Growing up in an artistic environment, Yanya’s parents were always supportive of her choosing music as her creative outlet. At the age of 7 she began learning classical piano and cello, but just a few short years later she decided to go the non-classical route and taught herself guitar. Influenced by powerhouse females like Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse and Pixies (her cover of “Hey” by Pixies is one absolutely worth listening to).
After dropping demo tracks “Cheap Flights” and “Waves” on Soundcloud in 2014, Yanya put herself on the map with the release of her first EP Small Crimes in 2016, followed by the Plant Feed EP the following year. On the heels of both EPs, Yanya gained spots on tour with bands like The xx, Interpol and Mitski, and in 2018 was signed to independent New York label ATO. “Heavyweight Champion of the Year” was the first single to be released from Miss Universe, then “In Your Head” three months later, and “Tears” the next month. These three singles are a great preface to what you can expect from the entire album. Grungy and distorted alt-rock guitar combined with Yanya’s yodel-like vocals laid over poppy drum beats make for a one-of-a-kind experience.
A key element to Miss Universe is the spoken word interludes that occur after every few songs. Yanya uses her voice to mimic a telephone operator from a fictional health company called WWAY Health (We Worry About Your Health). These five short sketches highlight Miss Universe’s themes of anxiety while also bringing a comedic element to the album.
After the first interlude, the album kicks off with the grungy head-banging jam “In Your Head,” before transitioning into “Paralysed,” which also consists of that distorted guitar sound Yanya is always gravitating towards. Miss Universe’s fourth track “Angels” is one of my personal favorites, not only because it’s impossible to not want to tap your foot or shake a leg to it, but for the sentiments of death and afterlife expressed in the lyrics: “I can’t keep the floor from stopping, an angel laughs down from the sky, I get the feeling that I could drop in, they’re growing jealous of you and I.”
“Paradise” and “Baby Blu” shy away from the grunge vibes for a little bit and are where Yanya and her band get a little experimental. “Paradise” features a steady drum beat and simple electric guitar progressions, but the wild card in this song comes by way of a saxophone, which adds an entirely new element to the track. Halfway through, the tempo picks up and slowly build up to the last minute of the song where the full band comes in and everything seamlessly comes together. “Baby Blu” is one of the album’s softer more stripped back songs. While it still contains electric guitar and live drums it feels light when compared to the majority of the album.
“Heat Rises” and “Melt” follow, both songs being pretty different from one another in terms of the music. “Melt” is the only other track on the album to feature a saxophone, performed by band member Jazzi Bobbi, a diamond in the rough it seems for a modern day alternative album. “Safety Net” offers some 1980s inspired keys, adding yet another interesting musical component to Miss Universe. Yanya wraps up the album with “Tears,” “Monsters Under the Bed” – a track Yanya wrote at just 15 years old – “The Unordained” and finally, “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.” “Tears”, written as a pop song, is the only one out of the four that sounds noticeably different. The last three have the makeup of alternative rock through and through.
From the overall pacing of Miss Universe to new surprises that jump out at you in every song, Yanya nailed her first full-length album. I admire her ability to be experimental and also remain true to her sound. Yanya still has room to grow and become even more eclectic, but Miss Universe is one hundred percent original and one-of-a-kind. It did something for me the first time I listened to it, to a point where I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. I know it’s only April, but I can already tell it will be a high contender for my 2019 AOTY.