New Music Monday, April 15th: Miss Universe

Image courtesy of ATO Records

Review by Delia Murphy

With her debut album, Miss Universe, Nilüfer Yanya of West London invites us into the surreal, sometimes dystopian, corners of her ever-contemplating mind. Throughout the 17 tracks, her soulful harmonies are held down by a steady guitar line, minimal percussion, and the occasional saxophone riff. The simplicity of the vocals and their backing is well-suited to the nonchalance with which Yanya sorts through bubbling emotional turmoil. As the 23-year-old grapples with self-doubt and paranoia, she seems surprisingly content to reside in the resounding “maybes” which answer her existential questions. There, she does not wallow, but continues to casually wonder if more clear answers will come along.

The fourteenth track, “Monsters Under the Bed,” exemplifies Yanya’s comfort with uncertainty: it opens with the lines “Standing on the edge of reason / Not quite sure what’s right” and wraps up with a bridge and final chorus, which both include triumphant repetition of the line “But the feeling’s good.” Yanya’s apparent ability to accept no answer as the answer is an impressive show of maturity. Occasionally, her crisp falsetto emerges, bringing with it a fleeting sense of desperation for well-defined solutions and a sense of calm. As quickly as Yanya rises to her falsetto, she returns to her naturally raspy voice in a lower register, demonstrating her impressive range and vocal control.

Yanya’s quest for answers in her early adulthood is satirized by the album’s intro and interludes during which she shelves her soulful voice. Instead, she speaks in an eerie monotone on these tracks, acting as the voice of a telemarketed self-care service, called WWAY HEALTH. The ultimate failure of this service cleverly suggests that the emotional dilemmas we face cannot be solved with mere technology, and maybe not even with obsessive thought. Like Yanya, we might have to be content to reside in the maybes.

With raw raspy vocals, minimalistic yet grounding accompaniment, emotionally reflective lyrics, and clever composure, Miss Universe announces Nilüfer Yanya as an emerging force in the indie pop-rock scene.