Album Reviews: Nilüfer Yanya – Painless and Kawala – Better With You
Nilufer Yanya – Painless
Nilüfer Yanya’s second album revels in loose song structures. The 26-year-old Londoner constantly changes his mood, from cold, languid tones on Radiohead and Portishead’s ‘Midnight Sun’, to heavy, grungy menace on ‘L/R’, and then industrial gloom on ‘Chase Me’. “This record is very instinctive,” she said of Painlessin a recent interview with The Independent. Her voice, which debuted in 2019 Miss Universe strained into shrill falsetto voices, has now lowered to a velvety whisper.
Sometimes this instinct threatens to turn into apathy; Yanya lets the music take over her currents, rather than taking the lead. An airy guitar motif scatters from opener “The Dealer” to “Shameless” a few tracks later. But there are also some surprising flourishes, like the freewheeling jazz trumpet that brings “Belong With You” to its tense climax. Compared to the sardonic wellness industry of Miss Universe, PainlessThe lyrics are more fatalistic, made worse by Yanya’s numb delivery of surprisingly direct lines: “You can hurt me if you want to,” she whispers on “Shameless”… “If it feels good, so I’m fine.” Despite the disc’s immersive qualities, the crushing effect is as satisfying as a cast ripped off right away.
Kawala – better with you
better with you came at the right time. As we shed our winter cocoons, Kawala’s confident enough debut is the perfect summer soundtrack for seasonal change.
A quintet from Camden who have previously played the main stage in Reading and Leeds and supported the independent elites of the Bombay Bicycle Club on tour, their music – a pleasant jaunt between alt-pop, indie and Afrobeat – has always been empathetic. Their 2019 hit “Wash Away the Wild” is an indebted Alt J number on which co-vocalists Jim Higson and Daniel McCarthy comfort a friend struggling with a drinking problem. This objective of understanding is omnipresent on this disc, whether it is masked by metaphors which float on the playful melody of “Hold Back the Years” or more direct as on “Searching”, during which the group expresses the universal anxiety to dive back into the post-breakup dating pool.
That doesn’t mean that better with you is completely catastrophic. Kawala adds punch to their thoughts with tight pop choruses and polished production. “Marathon” is a catchy, if a little tweety, sequel to their biggest hit yet “Ticket to Ride,” which found a fanbase of bucket-hat-wearing guys after it was featured on the Fifa’22 soundtrack.
The record isn’t without its flaws: later songs tend to blend too easily into each other, sitting side by side in a mulch in between. But at the same time better with you may not hit all the right notes, it hits a lot.