Nilüfer Yanya’s most potent work holds something in reserve. Whether it’s a judgment, a closely guarded secret, or a concealed wound is unclear, but a sense of unknowable hurt lurks in her voice, and as a songwriter she smartly builds her arrangements around this unfilled blank.
Her new single, “Midnight Sun,” traces this blankness obsessively, stalks it with a panther’s poise. The chord progression is a puzzle box of trap doors and false bottoms, evoking Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” or Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” The first two minutes pedal uneasily between B minor and B-flat augmented, the harmonic motion of a mumbling stranger pacing a public bathroom. Every eight bars, she eases into a brief, two-bar respite of G major before freezing up again. When Yanya at last allows the song to settle into major, the withheld catharsis is exhilarating, and the guitars bloom into distortion as if with relief. Over the glorious din, Yanya sings: “Love is raised by common thieves/Hiding diamonds up their sleeves/Always I did it for you.” It’s a ringing declaration of…something, be it love or defiance or reclamation. Yanya makes sure you feel it on your skin.