Music review: Nilufer Yanya's Miss Universe heralds blossoming of new talent

Nilufer Yanya (above) switches effortlessly between yearning urgency and insouciant cool while Jenny Lewis' (left) moody, bittersweet lyrics capture nostalgia and loss.
Nilufer Yanya switches effortlessly between yearning urgency and insouciant cool while Jenny Lewis' (above) moody, bittersweet lyrics capture nostalgia and loss.PHOTOS: AUTUMN DE WILDE, PRIMARY TALENT INTERNATIONAL
Nilufer Yanya (above) switches effortlessly between yearning urgency and insouciant cool while Jenny Lewis' (left) moody, bittersweet lyrics capture nostalgia and loss.
Nilufer Yanya (above) switches effortlessly between yearning urgency and insouciant cool while Jenny Lewis' moody, bittersweet lyrics capture nostalgia and loss.PHOTOS: AUTUMN DE WILDE, PRIMARY TALENT INTERNATIONAL

Nilufer Yanya makes an intriguing debut with her album, Miss Universe, while indie rock stalwart Jenny Lewis' storytelling shines in On The Line

With Miss Universe, London-based Nilufer Yanya has put out one of the year's most intriguing debut albums so far.

Anchored by catchy hooks, the songs fleet among soul-pop, R&B, post-punk and electronic music as they tackle issues ranging from paranoia to self-serving corporations.

The 23-year-old, who is of Turkish, Irish and Bajan descent, switches effortlessly between yearning urgency and insouciant cool, often within a single song.

An imaginative guitarist, she plays a heady mix of grungy power chords, searing lead lines and jazzy flourishes.

Like in an episode of techno-paranoia television series Black Mirror, she peppers the album with interludes and references to a fictional health management company.

"They sort out all of your dietary requirements, and then they move onto medication... you're giving them more of you and to what end?" she asks in a statement accompanying the album.

  • Nilufer Yanya (above) switches effortlessly between yearning urgency and insouciant cool while Jenny Lewis' (left) moody, bittersweet lyrics capture nostalgia and loss.

    ALTERNATIVE POP

    MISS UNIVERSE

    Nilufer Yanya

    ATO Records

    4.5 stars

  • Nilufer Yanya (above) switches effortlessly between yearning urgency and insouciant cool while Jenny Lewis' (left) moody, bittersweet lyrics capture nostalgia and loss.

    INDIE ROCK

    ON THE LINE

    Jenny Lewis

    Warner Bros

    4 stars

She expresses her vulnerability in the sparse and wistful Safety Net, while Tears radiates with 1980s synthpop vibes.

The Unordained shines with just her expressive voice and wily guitars, but she can also do indie-disco bangers, as she shows on the buoyant On In Your Head.

While Miss Universe heralds the blossoming of a new talent, On The Line heralds the return of indie rock stalwart Jenny Lewis, released five years after her last album, The Voyager (2014).

The former Rilo Kiley frontwoman and child actress has roped in some illustrious musicians to back her, from Beatle Ringo Starr and producer Don Was to alt-rock elder Beck and the controversy-laden Ryan Adams, but the singular storytelling prowess in the album is all hers.

The sunshine-y production and 1980s rock sheen belie moody, bittersweet lyrics capturing nostalgia and loss.

Do Si Do, written for a friend who had gone off psychiatric medication, turns the square dance call on its head ("Let the grown man cry/ It's suicide, my, oh my"), while Little White Dove ("I'm your blood, I want more/The water from my eyes fell to the floor") and the title track delicately deal with her mother's illness and death.

She dissects the failed attempts at mending a broken relationship in Dogwood and mulls over addiction in Wasted Youth.

Red Bull & Hennessy is a potent mix with its dual drums and unabashed lyrics ("I'm wired on Red Bull and Hennessy/Higher than you"), but it is really album-opener Heads Gonna Roll that surprises with its reference to boxer Floyd Mayweather, despite its languid tempo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline 'Women power'. Print Edition | Subscribe