Niki: Nicole review – introspective indie from an artist in search of her sound

Although only 23, the Indonesian American singer-songwriter Nicole Zefanya, AKA Niki, has already experimented with multiple iterations of her sound. Her 2018 debut EP, Zephyr, traded on the bass-forward, hook-laden R&B exemplified by the likes of SZA and Jhené Aiko, while her 2020 album, Moonchild, moved into atmospheric synth-pop. Her second album, Nicole, foregrounds softly strumming guitars for 12 tracks of introspective indie.

Where Zefanya’s vocal used to showcase a sturdier soul sound, Nicole finds her stripped back to a more delicate, almost spoken falsetto. It’s a choice that works well for packing in the lines of her storytelling material, from recounting a long-distance romance (Before), to a high-school flirtation (High School in Jakarta) and a lost love (Oceans & Engines). A familiar arc is traced – love found, fought for and taken away – while Zefanya delivers each song in an equally familiar confessional style, building from light melodies to crescendos of roiling emotion.

The overall effect plays like a Phoebe Bridgers pastiche, only without the Californian’s darker undertones. Although a satisfying listen, Nicole still fails to present Zefanya with a distinct sound of her own. Perhaps future records will see her settle on one.