Nilüfer Yanya – ‘Miss Universe’ review

A full five years since she created buzz with a handful of acoustic demos, the London singer-songwriter has turned in a bloody brilliant collection of eclectic tunes

It’s been five years since Nilüfer Yanya uploaded a handful of stunning, sparse acoustic demos to SoundCloud, in which time the 23-year-old has been on a journey to find the exact sound she wants to make. Each EP release has seen Yanya further hone her music, adding in new influences and songwriting tricks. With her first album ‘Miss Universe’, it feels like she’s finally arrived.

For her debut full-length release, the Londoner was surrounded by a full band for the first time. The results are the familiar jazz flecked guitar and honeyed vocals of her grunge-laced EPs, this time amplified by lithe drum lines and shimmering synth riffs.

Throughout ‘Miss Universe’, she hops between genres, trying them on for a song or two, before shrugging them off and picking up something else. ‘In Your Head’ is a swaggering slab of rock-licked pop stuffed with growling guitars and cantering drums that barrel into the radio-ready chorus, whilst the ‘00s electronica-licked ‘Heat Rises’, which was influenced by Kelis’ ‘Millionaire’, boasts whirring, unrelenting electronic beats that skitter underneath the singer-songwriter’s velvety vocals. Then there’s the galloping ‘Baby Blu’, a slice of elegant R&B that erupts into a jubilant gospel-tinged breakdown over fizzing club beats.

The eclectic collection of songs is tied together by a series of eerie phone messages from the album’s main character Miss Universe (voiced by Yanya). Opening with a welcome message, the creepy, Black Mirror-esque words that greet the listener are: “Thank you for entering your details and welcome to WayHealth”. Short for We Worry About Your Health, this is a fictional company that claims to “look after” your health; messages from the dystopian organisation pepper ‘Miss Universe’. At times they can border on trite (‘Warning’ is caution against of a high temperature zone, followed by the song ‘Heat Rises’), but are often brilliantly ominous, and effectively bring the pick-and-mix assortment of tunes together and assemble them into a coherent album.

A musical chameleon, Yanya’s debut album puts the extraordinary talent’s songwriting skills front and centre. Filled with crunchy, complex tunes that elegantly interweave a host of unusual influences, ‘Miss Universe’ is an impressive and bold record. Five years on from her first Soundcloud demos, Yanya has found her sound – and it’s bloody brilliant.