Artists to Watch in 2018: Nilüfer Yanya
22-year-old West Londoner NILÜFER YANYA epitomises the trope of “effortlessly cool”. After releasing her debut EP, Small Crimes, in 2016, she fully arrived this year with her sophomore EP, Plant Feed, and most recent single, ‘Baby Luv’. Her music, a stylistic melting pot of jazz, 90s indie and guitar-driven soul, is topped with an enviably velveteen, deeply rich voice. What emerges are some nonchalant R&B tracks with the feel of a DIY singer-songwriter, all the distinctiveness of Nina Simone’s voice, and the captivatingly gruff, suburban drawl of King Krule. Like any good melting pot, the influences are all still there, but they’ve been rearranged into something completely new, something of Nilüfer’s own making.
The backbone of Yanya’s sparse, minimal compositions, however, is always her guitar playing: the muted guitar line that forms the earnestly simple spine of ‘Baby Luv’ seems to find endless variations on the same three chords as it cycles around and around with subtle shifts in dynamics and articulations falling on different notes. The same line repeats throughout the entire song, the monotony building up a reservoir of tension that only breaks towards the end with the addition of a simple backbeat and some washing synths.
But the bounciness and sunniness of the track is almost enough to camouflage the darkness lurking underneath: Nilüfer is perpetually caught in anxiety-fuelled debates about her life decisions, her guitar taking on the external shape of her inner emotional life. This underbelly reveals itself through the sharp-tongued hook, “Again, again, again, again, again, again / Do you like pain?”. Some artists spend entire careers trying to craft the sort of indelible pop songs that achieve this dichotomy – Nilüfer’s already done it.
You can hear the imperfections when her voice cracks under the repetitiveness and it doesn’t quite hit the right notes; you notice when it strains to do so, and you can imagine the face she’s pulling as she tries. The ability to impart a visual image through the sheer character and presences of your performance on a recording, especially for such a young artist, is no small feat.
She pulls off a similar trick again in ‘Golden Cage’, with spacious chords that leave room for jazzy flourishes of brass to shine through as the guitar seemingly finds its footing, falling in between quarter notes with little regard to the beat at first, before coalescing into an irresistible groove towards the end.
Nilüfer Yanya is bringing a vitality back to guitar music that focuses less on technical proficiency and more on abstract playing that reaches some emotional affectivity, dragging the style into the 21st century much the same way St. Vincent or Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors has.
While she might ooze nonchalant cool, there’s nothing effortless about everything Nilüfer has achieved in her career to date; she looks set now to dominate the “effortlessly cool” trope for years to come.
WORDS BY KYLE FENSOM
IMAGE: Stella Malfilâtre