Nilüfer Yanya | Meow Wolf (The Perplexiplex) | Singer-Songwriter | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado
screenshot_2024-06-24_at_6.17.01___pm.png

Nilüfer Yanya

with Angélica Garcia and Lutalo

Presented by Indie 102.3

“What you looking for? Shut up and raise your glass if you’re not sure.” From its very first line, Nilüfer Yanya’s third album asks questions with no easy answers. It is a supple, expansive body of work that peers into the crevices of life, exploring them with comforting strings, skittering beats, soul-tinged melodies and swooning harmonies. It asks, who are we? Why do we follow the paths we follow? What is at the heart of it all?

A singer-songwriter from London, Yanya grew up in a creative family - both her parents are visual artists - and has always channelled her emotions and questions about life into music. Her first album “Miss Universe” and its 2022 follow-up “Painless” cemented her as one of the UK’s most interesting and thoughtful songwriters, lauded by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Since her debut, she has performed on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, Later with Jools Holland and NPR’s legendary Tiny Desk, opened for artists as varied as Adele, the XX and Mitski, and sold out her own headlining shows across Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA.

As someone who understands the enormous value of creative expression, Nilüfer is also the founding member of the community project Artists In Transit, which offers creative workshops and other support to displaced communities. AIT began by offering workshops at a refugee camp in Greece in 2015, and since then has offered over 100 artistic experiences to children and young people experiencing the immigration system in Europe. During Covid-19, it also provided over 500 lockdown art packages to children living across London.

With this wealth of experience under her belt, Nilüfer retreated into the studio with her creative partner, Will Archer. She had toured her second album, Painless, for a year and entered a period of transition, between albums, between record companies, between homes. The record deals a lot with the idea of movement from one part of life and into another. Even before she began thinking about writing, Yanya was questioning her own impulses. “You know, you want to give yourself some time,” she recalls thinking when she finished the Painless cycle, “But then you're like, how much is the right amount of time before you should start the next thing?”

The seeds of the record were planted in early 2023, but it wasn’t until the spring of that year that shoots began to appear. As songs started to form, Yanya and Archer squirrelled themselves away from the world. “This is the most intense album, in that respect,” Yanya says. “Because it’s only been us two. We didn’t let anyone else into the bubble.” They wrote and recorded in small sessions, spread across London, Wales and Eastbourne.

The bubble was a safe space. No expectations, no feedback, just the freedom to follow their own creative impulses in whatever direction they took them. Archer brought the music to the table while Nilüfer wrote melodies and lyrics that sometimes float over the top, sometimes slalom through beats and always delve into the biggest questions. You can feel this cocooning of creative energy in the atmosphere of the record: it envelopes you entirely in cinematic sweeps while feeling intimate, finally inviting you into the little world they created and offering up its secrets.

“The only intention we set was let's just do this together, just us two. Let's not dilute it in any way, even if it's coming from insecurity - "oh is this good?" - let's just keep this in this bubble for as long as we can,” Yanya says now. “We didn't let anyone else's opinion affect it too much - it was like working alone with two brains.”

Songs bloomed into being in unexpected ways, helped Yanya to make sense of her world and the ways it was changing as she enters her late twenties and grapples with what it means to be an established musician. “For me, writing is definitely problem solving - in the way they say that dreaming is like problem solving. You're like, oh, that sounds good. That looks good. That makes sense. But you don't really know why. You're kind of using that part of your creative brain that doesn't have to make sense.” Her lyrics are specific and hazy at once, and sometimes surreal: she talks about the songs as though she’s trying to decipher the person she was when she wrote them.

Yanya and Archer first worked together in 2019 on Nilüfer’s debut album, Miss Universe. As she was making that first record, even though she collaborated with others it felt important for her to direct as much of the writing and production as possible, feeling that creating the album itself was her way of proving to the world that she could. On Painless, she opened the door to collaboration further and on the record it reaches new creative peaks, allowing Yanya to translate her more out-there musical ideas into reality - ideas that take in everything from traditional guitar-based songs to tracks that tiptoe around hip-hop, soul and grunge.

On the gorgeous Like I Say (I Runaway), these worlds dovetail perfectly - chunky, distorted guitar crunches under the chorus, while a cheeky, shimmying beat runs through it. The verses recall loose ‘90s alternative radio and it’s exactly the right amount of catchy - a song you could dance to, laze in the park to, or have an emotional breakdown in your bedroom to.

“The chorus originally sounded a lot different - it didn’t have as much flashy guitar, it was a lot more chilled out. We kind of puzzled it out like a jigsaw.” The song focuses on that moment when you realise how precious your time is. “It’s about how you choose to spend it - time is like a currency, every moment. You’re never going to get it back. It’s quite an overwhelming thing to realise.”

Binding reaches for something strong to numb, to forget. It probes the feeling of wanting to “delete yourself, disappear, become invisible - to not have to be there any more, not have to be a physical person.” It’s heavy, but soft - like a drug creeping through your veins. “I always envision a long, slow drive into oblivion, into nothing. It’s not so much running away as just disappearing.”

Elsewhere, Yanya grapples with more existential questions. Method Actor comes with a current of violence running through it, and came from the idea of Yanya putting herself into a character’s headspace, entering their realm and their life for a song. “The reason why some people find method acting kind of traumatic and maybe not safe, mentally is because you're always going back to this moment, it can be good or bad. And you're always feeding off it. It’s something that's defined you.” The duality of being the performer and the performed is an idea that runs through many of the songs on the record: who are we when we’re being seen by others and who are we when we’re not?

Ready For Sun steps out from the cocoon of change and stretches its wings into a new state. From the very first beat, the energy is hopeful and bright despite its acknowledgement that not everything is fully formed: “Beautiful scars/That’s all she’s got/Ready for sun.” It’s a song that unfurls through contemplative acoustic guitar and off-kilter harmonies: ready to be seen, ready to be warmed. The concise endpoint of the record is Wingspan, which is the spiritual sister to Ready For Sun: a sparse track coloured with ambient sounds and warped, sometimes spooky synths, it arrives somewhere that isn’t quite the ultimate destination. There is always further to go.

Nilüfer Yanya doesn’t claim to have the answers yet but she knows what the questions are. The realisation that time is precious, that paths can be changed and that creativity is not necessarily a constant state even when your whole life is built around it have given her a new level of freedom. Listening to the record is a warm, cinematic reminder that we all contain multitudes. Your precious time could not be better spent.