Review: Yuna’s album, ‘Nocturnal’
Off-the-radar indie artists have a way of positively surprising listeners, and they often succeed in doing so without putting a strain on their professional image or limiting the amount of goodies in their music bag.
This trend rings true for Malaysian singer and songwriter Yuna. While other artists settle with bold yet bulgy antics tacked onto their artistry, the songstress, born Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, sticks to class and simplicity. This approach has worked with the groundbreaking 2012 release of her self-titled album, and the goodies in her bag retain these ingredients in her new effort titled “Nocturnal.”
Though her previous album’s hit single, “Live Your Live,” had provided Yuna with a mellow, soothing folk and acoustic sound to jumpstart her career, the tunes on this album aim instead for sonically jolting sounds within the dance and trip hop sphere while staying subtle to make way for the main attraction: her vocals.
Stellar music production contributed by Chad Hugo and Ryan Hannibal accentuates their successful twist on the indie-pop genre by blending it with Yuna’s own personal style. Filled with Malay-inspired instruments, the opening track, “Falling,” gives listeners a direct insight into Yuna’s culturally colorful background. Similar tracks, like “Rescue,” further reflect her musical roots via the hand claps and the xylophones within the drum structures. Once again, it’s a welcome change from exaggerated gritty dubstep, hip hop and electronic-fused sounds that eventually wear off.
Yuna may not have a very strong vocal presence like Adele or Jessie Ware, but her soft and tender chords make “Nocturnal” work without sonically turning away from her overall cozy and sultry style. Her pipes are brilliantly utilized in both the bubbly pop ventures and down-tempo, R&B-esque tracks. Rather than explode with triumphantly variable vocal riffs, her free-flowing and high-pitched singing makes “I Want You Back” and “Escape” golden, especially the latter of the two, which happens to be one of her strongest tracks with its relaxing atmospheric trip-hop production laced with guitar and string effects. Yuna doesn’t hold back on her luscious and harmonic vibes, making this song the most impressive on “Nocturnal.”
Yuna’s lyricism, however, is low-scale and unpolished. Her feelings for a significant other seem to be deep, but as we find throughout the second half of “Nocturnal,” the depth of those feelings are vague and can be up for debate. In “I Wanna Go,” she talks about being hesitant about going out with a guy, despite having gone out anyway. In “Someone Who Can,” she’s ready to leave him, fully informed that he is unfaithful and that she’d be better off without him. Then Yuna changes her mind again in “I Want You Back,” ready to call him at a moment’s notice.
“Lights and Cameras” seems to be the only evidence for thought outside of Yuna’s indecisive love struggle, and paints the picture of a prominent individual succumbing to the hardships of fame. However, even with the change in subject matter from her sentimental feelings, Yuna’s simplicity turns out to be a double-edged sword. Her words are rarely embellished and tend to be corny.
Nevertheless, “Nocturnal” is still a warm and light-hearted indie-pop album that artists like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry would probably be incapable of producing, given the fact that much of their artistry relies on shock value. Yuna depends on her class and Malaysian musical background, as well as her ability to maintain suave vocal control, to provide prismatic variety in her song structure. These attributes are graciously expressed in “Nocturnal.” Had she more topics to play with, then this album might have been a competitive alternative to the current famous names in the industry.