Nilüfer Yanya has slowly been building a name for herself as a young songwriter with an alluringly affecting voice, yet her output prior to this first album has seemed somewhat erratic. She has been described as a post-R’n’B singer by some, a jazz-pop songstress by others, while early demos for ‘Cheap Flights’ and ‘Waves’ on Soundcloud were given the tags of #indie and #alternative. These deviations between genres can often create confusion for a mass audience who, more often than not, seem to pander to the monolithic approach of an artist’s ‘star persona’ which the marketing departments of record labels adhere to, i.e. a simplistic and restrictively defined appeal confined within established generic parameters for a clearly identified demographic. Nilüfer Yanya takes the approach of ignoring the expectations of others to produce a set of songs which skip happily from one style to the next as she sees fit, and it pays off brilliantly. This is a bold move and one which the listener gets carried away with so long as they are not some weird genre-partisan apologist. Miss Universe is, at its core, a postmodern album which wears a multitude of influences unashamedly on its self-stitched sleeves.

‘In Your Head’ is a startling way to start the album (ignoring the introductory ‘WWAY HEALTH’ spoken-word skit), and it sounds like no other track in the collection. It is a vivacious, fuzzy-guitared indie stomper which centres on issues of paranoia and thoughts which are “white noise.” It is catchier than a really contagious thing during a particularly virulent spell. The song is triumphant, emotionally unsure and downright vulnerable all at once. During the sections where Yanya is opining about her paranoia, there is a perfectly delivered double-tracked vocal which highlights the dual nature of the conversation in her head, the two vocal performances intertwining at parts whilst the next second repelling each other, highlighting the nature of monomaniacal self-talk. The pain of her need for validation is clear as she looks to get inside the head of her lover, but also more importantly to analyse her own responses and thought processes. This sense of self-reflection is a consistent theme on Miss Universe, as Nilüfer Yanya’s ability to write not just a catchy hook but to douse these moments of musical brilliance around ideas of pain, weakness, yearning and openness is at the forefront of the album.

The indie-buzz of ‘In Your Head’ makes way for ‘Paralysed’ which has a more R’n’B feel to it despite guitars being at the forefront of the song’s arrangement. Yanya’s vocal performance on this track soars above the music and when the focus is on her voice you soon realise just how unique it is. It would be difficult to pick out her specific influences with confidence just by listening to her sing, and it is this fact that means she already stands out in the field of the emerging post-R’n’B acts such as Tirzah or FKA Twigs. Traces of Sade can be heard across the album, whilst Martina Topley-Bird and Laura Mvula are also reference points for those who seem obsessed with finding echoes of others in the work of new artists. Yet it is entirely to Yanya’s credit that there are inflections in her voice that from time to time remind the listener of these other artists but these are fleeting and only serve to highlight the distinctive quality of her voice.

The fact that Miss Universe consists of 17 tracks (which includes some superfluous skits parodying well-being products) is undeniably brave for a debut album, particularly in light of the two singles from last year’s Do You Like Pain? EP being omitted. (Do I like pain, Nilüfer? Yes, I bloody well revel in it, thanks for asking.) There are some tracks here which could have been shed from the album without too much damage being done, notably ‘Safety Net’ and ‘Monsters Under the Bed’, both of which are perfectly serviceable tracks in their own right with masterful vocal performances, yet when they turn up on the album it feels as though this ground has already been covered already. This is perhaps a harsh criticism, yet one that is intrinsically justified as Miss Universe as a whole feels fresh as it skips from one genre to the next without paying heed to the supposed rules of the debut album. It is only by the album’s previously high standards that these later tracks suffer a little, and it is only by a little.

‘Paradise’ and ‘Melt’ both share a cool, almost aloof sensibility which suggests that both tracks would not feel out of place on the work of an alluring 1960s French chanteuse, whilst the brilliantly tense and sparse last track ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ sounds like a more vocally trained PJ Harvey. Although most of the lyrical themes explored on the album focus on heartbreak and pessimism, there remains a degree of positivity on a number of the tracks which allows the work as a whole to transcend the subject matter. Both ‘Baby Blu’ and the sumptuous ‘Tears’ deal with failed relationships but are set to uplifting music which offer a hint of hope and relief, whilst ‘Heat Rises’ has a sense of euphoria to it. This latter track evokes ideas of Kelis and Andre 3000’s ‘Millionaire’ being remixed by The xx, but also shows that Yanya can pull off exquisite pop in the same manner she can produce brash indie or contemplative R’n’B.

Nilüfer Yanya has managed to produce an album which flits from one template to the next, yet at no time is there a tendency to feel that this is contrived and neither does it suggest an artist scrabbling around for an identity and an audience which then comes with it. These shifts in style always feel controlled, as though the song demands them rather than existing at the behest of the cold and ruthless focus group approach of a foolhardy A&R department. With Miss Universe, Nilüfer Yanya has demonstrated the tenacity and courage to firmly make her mark as a musician playing by her rules and her rules alone.