It’s easy to slip back into the old favourites when you’re scrambling for something to listen to. After all, new music is hard to find and even more difficult to sell.
Just ask Mamas Gun, a terrific band that has had a fairly unusual trajectory to where they are today. The London-based soul group’s star has always been on the rise, but even now on their fourth album and having enjoyed solid success since day one, they’re still relatively unknown in Europe. Instead, their debut album, Routes to Riches, became one of Japan’s most popular records in 2009.
On the surface it might seem strange, but everything makes sense when you get down into it. Mamas Gun is rife with upbeat inflections and boogie that owes a debt to the enduring legacy of city pop and smooth jazz in Japan. Addictive and easy on the ear, it’s a surprise that Mamas Gun didn’t make it home to Europe sooner. Deeply soothing, nostalgic music closer to Bobby Womack or Teddy Pendergrass than the neo-soul stylings of an artist like D’Angelo. What that says about changing tastes is debatable – what counts is that they’re here now and absolutely superb.
Where Mamas Gun is warm and rich, Dana Gavanski is sparse and cool. It’s a testament to the fact that one can make soulful music without making soul music.
Her records Yesterday Is Gone and Letting Go give a sense of the melancholic mood at play here, but Gavanski’s bright, tenacious and occasionally mawkish vocals belie a self-confidence that reveals itself in spacious strings and percussive flair.
Gavanksi likely would have swapped dusty London pubs for international stages long ago were it not for circumstances out of her control. As it is, the time spent not touring early material might turn out to be a blessing as she has developed her sound to include shades of cosmic prog, which adds so much to her already spectral energy. Nevertheless, Gavanski has been ready to take the next step for some time now and this concert is symbolic of her burgeoning status on the international scene.
Of all the acts this month that can still be considered under-the-radar, Japanese Breakfast comes closest to real mainstream recognition. With a regular capacity of 500, Frannz Club is a large venue. Yet current restrictions will surely pull that number down and the fact that this gig isn’t already sold out is almost criminal.
Japanese Breakfast has that rare talent of simultaneously presenting itself as stylish and kitschy. Their buzzy indie, surf-psych and grand sweeping pop tunes come replete with all the coniferous, nymphic, mischievousness one would hope for from a band coming out of the Pacific Northwest.
Japanese Breakfast, Mamas Gun, and Dana Gavanski all have a solid back catalogue to dive into ahead of time. While that can be daunting, each of them is the kind of band that rewards taking a chance on, all of them are concerts that anyone can enjoy without knowing the material. The same can be said for the mercurial Nilüfer Yanya. But considering that she doesn’t perform until the end of the month, and with just one album – an excellent one at that – there really is no good reason not to familiarise yourself.
Nilüfer Yanya is a seriously exciting talent. When her debut album Miss Universe landed in 2019 there was already a lot to shout about, and so far, she has taken everything in her stride. On Midnight Sun, the first single of her third album due out next month, there’s a knowing restraint that speaks to an artist who is confident in her lane. Her’s is rock music that is just guarded enough to breed intrigue on the first listen and offers more and more each time it is played.
The common thread among all these acts is the capacity to dive deep and find something new. So, this month as your eye rolls over the listings and you spy Avril Lavigne and think that it makes sense, be mindful that there are plenty of other acts out there that are much more rewarding.
Mamas Gun Mar 11 Quasimodo | Dana Gavanski Mar 14 Badehaus | Japanese Breakfast Mar 22 Frannz Club | Nilüfer Yanya Mar 26 Säälchen
Echo & the Bunnymen
The new-wave icons are one among a select clique to have emerged this side of the millennium with their reputation intact. Undoubtedly one of the best English bands of the 80s – buy on sight.
Mar 22 Metropol, Schöneberg. Starts 20:00
Robert Glasper Experiment
Draw a Venn diagram of Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Erykah Badu, Kanye, Herbie Hancock, Radiohead and Joni Mitchell, and you’ll only find one name in the middle. Robert Glasper is the preeminent pianist of popular music and to see him perform under his own steam is nothing short of magical.
Mar 26 Huxleys Neue Welt, Neukölln. Starts 20:00