Review Summary: primed to bloom (more than she already has)
It’s a tried and true reality that the debut album might be your one chance to define yourself as an artist. It’s no wonder why these days most indie artists take their time before putting out their “album,” with many taking the same route that Nilufer Yanya has, dropping various singles and EPs first in order to master a sound before leaping forward into the fray. Curiously, her previous studio sound was cemented in r&b and pop, while during live sets she put on a far folkier aesthetic in comparison. While this release may be dappled with splashes of each of these genres, Miss Universe
is decidedly an all-frills rock album burning with creativity. While the tunes are structurally straightforward, they often dance in noises both dreamy and jagged and is filled to the brim with turns and sonic tricks up its sleeve. From a smarmy saxophone in “Melt” to the warbling electronics of “Safety Net,” we’re always left guessing which secret passage is looming around the corner.
That’s not to say that this album is divided at all from her pop history, as Yanya more often than not picks the more obvious melodic path, but almost never in a way that impedes the song. Rather, she finds herself playing on the edge of both pop and weirdness. Her voice embraces this mission as well, being a constant wildcard of accessible quirkiness, cranking her British accent up to 11 all while emphasizing every line with a stubborn, admirable charisma. More often than not you’ll find her toying with sounds incongruous yet delightful, all while confidently keeping her feet planted in the trusty safespace of pop-rock. In fact, it’s such a determined and adventurous exploration of both pop and rock music that calling it “pop-rock” feels more like a disservice than anything.
However, this is no masterpiece. All the tracks here are great, each having the marks of quality and craftsmanship, but none stand out as “the one” you’ll find yourself coming back to time and time again, as close as some may come. Certain songs meld together too easily, getting lost in the murk of the album’s length; others jitter about so wildly all while still hitting the pop formula so cleanly that they’re caught in an unfortunate uncanny valley. It’s important to remember that despite its length and sonic variety, it’s a deceptively simple album; it’s just trying to have a good time, and it wants you to have a good time with it too. And to be clear, no one is expecting anything more at this point in her career. Yanya has bounded onto the scene as an exciting artist with a fun, defining debut album. And at 22 years old, she has all the time in the world to show us what she’s got in store for us.