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CD of The Week

Week of 3/07/22

    Nilüfer Yanya - PAINLESS (ATO)

    What do you do after declaring yourself Miss Universe? If you're Nilüfer Yanya, you take away the crown and conceptual bent of your sterling 2019 debut album and focus more on your intricate instrumentation and intimate songwriting. The result is PAINLESS, an intoxicating sophomore album that emphasizes Yanya's vibier, more sensuous sonic tendencies even at its most cathartic and cinematic. Think Sade fronting Radiohead.

    Like the incomparable Ms. Adu, Yanya's voice is silky and unassuming, the kind you could wrap yourself in for hours without even needing a hook to sing along to. The hooks do come though, not so much in the words as in the melodies that carry them and work their way into your bones through immaculate arrangement and quietly intense repetition. "the dealer" sets the tone with Luscious Jackson drum loops, New Order guitar licks, and lyrics that liken the push and pull of a stagnant relationship with the passing of the seasons. Sure, things reliably change from hot to cold and back, but that's not the same as momentum. The galloping ouroboros rhythm of the song echoes both the propulsion that Yanya craves and the cyclical reality that prevents it.

    The stagnation is also countered by the melody on lead single "stabilise", a tightly coiled would-be rave-up that puts the listener comfortably back In Rainbows with a somber but insistent refrain of "I'm going nowhere". Maybe not but running in place rarely feels so thrilling. That seeming contradiction begins to make sense as the album progresses to insinuate how the pain and frustration from such cycles can be addictive. "Don't like whenever I'm not in pain," Nilüfer confesses on "midnight sun", another song that echoes Radiohead via its blooming to booming balladry. After the last few years alone, it's easy to see why anyone would opt to feel pain just to be able to feel anything.

    It can also be necessary to feel pain in order to feel anything else, something more akin to hope. Album closer and standout "anotherlife" finds Yanya learning to let go so she can move on. She tells her departing partner, "I want you to believe me that I'm alright" over a mellow, martial beat that brings to mind a more beatific Chairlift. It's easy to believe her after listening to PAINLESS and to believe that no matter where she goes with her sound or her story next, we as listeners will be too if we decide to follow along.

    Nilüfer Yanya is slated to come to Philadelphia on May 4th at Underground Arts.
    Review by Rob Huff

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