Nilüfer Yanya: PAINLESS

nilufer yanya painless

Time can’t heal a wound you choose to leave open. All over PAINLESS, the second album by Nilüfer Yanya, the London songwriter lingers in feelings of heartbreak, dislocation, and rejection, and refuses to let them go. “Don’t like whenever I’m not in pain/Peeling back, not noticing/The blood and bones beneath my skin,” she sings on “midnight sun,” one of several disquieting lyrics about doing herself harm or inviting whoever hurt her to go ahead and grind her heart underfoot while they’re at it. The sting proves that this thing was once alive, even if she has to dig her nails under the scab to still feel it.

Yanya has always written such physical music. Her voice is a tender muscle; her songs have a sinewy twist, and her loud-quiet guitar can flood in as unexpectedly as cheeks flushing at the wrong moment. What’s remarkable about PAINLESS is how she whittles almost everything down—the near-monomaniacal emotional range, the abrupt, broken language, her palette reduced to smoke and ash and nerves—and makes even more of an impact. Partly that’s down to her beautiful melodies, which remain mercifully intact, looping in sync with her circular thoughts and fractal fears. “Troubled don’t count the ways I’m broken/Your troubles won’t count, not once we’ve spoken/What troubles me now if I tear this open/Some people won’t have the faintest notion,” runs the cracked lullaby of “trouble,” each line starting with the flicker of a chest heave.

Yanya could easily have followed her rollicking 2019 debut, Miss Universe, with an even more festival-ready record, but instead, this bold songwriter strands us with her in a state of alienation, where no touch or feeling works like it used to. If there’s an arrow from Miss Universe to PAINLESS, it’s in the former’s “Heat Rises,” a last-nerves gasp set to an insistent drum machine. That bristling electronic spine anchors many of these songs, supplying their desecrated foundations. Its tempos are terse, abrupt and unrelenting, mirroring the inevitability of time, a march Yanya can’t stop no matter how hard she tries. “the dealer” runs on a restless breakbeat that she attacks with loose-wrist, grimy guitar: “Patience there she goes/Cadence set in stone,” she sings in the spacious middle eight, as if standing on a cliff edge and watching it vanish. “L/R” observes a cold figure moving on autopilot over a cold, dubbed-out beat; meanwhile on “shameless,” she yearns to preserve a sad scene, questioning why someone’s touch is worth the humiliation it causes. The Sade-like beauty in her voice and the sweltering intimacy of the song’s fizzing beat tell you why.

Updated: March 4, 2022 — 12:00 pm