Matti Johannes Koivu

September 14, 2008 at 8:31 pm (Essays, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Helsinki, photo by me

Helsinki, photo by me

It was a frigid February night in Helsinki when I first heard Matti Johannes Koivu. I was traveling with my brother and staying with Helsinki natives, one of whom recommended we go to Tavastia to see a show that evening. I don’t remember much about the walk, because it’s hard to focus when it’s so cold your jeans harden in a matter of minutes. After the opener, a DJ for Radio Helsinki, did his part, Matti and his band took the stage to perform. I was thrilled to have literally stumbled (hey, it’s icy in Helsinki…) into such a great show. You might chalk it up to the fun of travelling and maybe the Karhu, but the impression Matti left on me has remained more than a year and a half later.

At the time of the gig Matti was playing songs off of Kovat Piipussa and Puuhastellen. I didn’t buy the CDs there, but the song “Kiitokset” made such an impression that I remembered it weeks later when I found Matti’s myspace. I’ve since had a kind Finn buy and mail me Kovat Piipussa, though for those who are impatient or don’t want to pay 30 dollars for a cd, his albums are available on iTunes.

Photo from the gig I saw, taken by me

Photo from the gig, taken by me

What does Matti Johannes Koivu sound like? Well, the unifying theme for his music is a man’s voice and acoustic guitar. The backing is sometimes lively, reminiscent of old American country. Sometimes there aren’t be any drums at all. Matti sings with a soft, medium-range voice, occasionally in duet with a soft woman’s voice. He sounds as at ease as most people do speaking, but if you try and sing along to a song like “Autopihaltaa Kohoaa” you’ll find he actually has a good deal of sustain in his voice. The guitar parts are often capo’d, plucky acoustic chords while a glassy slide guitar plays another melody on top. His most recent album, Irwin Goodmanin Lauluja, is almost all acoustic guitar and singing. Irwin Goodman is a well-known Finnish folk singer, though I much prefer Matti’s earnest and gentle voice to the harsh nasal tone of Irwin Goodman’s originals.

You may at first consider it a hindrance that the songs are always in Finnish. In fact, I have never seen Matti use English, not even on his website. But Finnish is a beautiful language with uniquely trilled R’s and unbelievably multi-syllabic words. You don’t have to be a linguist to appreciate the language, though, and the mystique that the songs have in an unintelligible language is wonderful. The melancholy of songs like “Esineet ja Aikataulut” (“Things and Schedules,”) or “Se Oli Eilen” (“It Was Yesterday,”) is only helped by the language. How better to hear emotion in music than through only the tone? Besides, I guarantee you’ll be singing along after a few listens regardless.

Don’t expect a world tour from Matti Johannes Koivu. While some Finnish-only bands can break through to a multinational market, I have a feeling that Matti will remain a well-kept secret within Finland. Nevermind, though, because between Youtube, iTunes, Myspace and Last.Fm you can stay abreast of most anything. It’s hard to recommend an album in particular, though I would suggest Kovat Piipussa for the incredibly powerful “Kiitokset” and the playful title track. It’s his most varied work containing Americana style folk as well as ballads, so if you’re in the mood for consistency get his first album Puuhastellen instead. None of the albums will disappoint, however. His songs show the universal nature of music, which is perhaps why I have suggested him to anyone who will listen. If talent like Matti Johannes Koivu and his band are playing in small Helsinki bars unbeknownst to most, music in this over-saturated and jaded market is a long way from dead. There’s hope yet. Paljon Kiitoksia, Matti.


Official Myspace with song samples

Official website (In Finnish, Google translation here)

Youtube live clips (pro-shot):


Isän Vanhassa Talossa

A personal note:If you’re into his music, whether you’re a Finn or not, please leave a comment and let me know what you think and how you found out about him. If any of the translations here are off, it’s entirely my fault, as most of the translations are recalled from memory.



  1. Johan said,

    A nice review of a nice artist! I really like the “Kiitokset” song as well. You really don’t need to understand finnish to appreaciate some of the songs. The lyrics are pretty obscure and way off from mainstream but I’ve seen that’s the case with most of the finnish artists. Most of the time the lyrics are really puzzling but that just excites the imagination even more.

  2. transientwriting said,

    Thanks a lot for leaving a comment… if you happen to see this again, are you Finnish or another nationality? I had a friend translate “Kiitokset” and it definitely took away some of the fun… the emotional bridge is really just about clothing articles if i remember. Still a very moving song!

  3. Johan said,

    Originally a Finn but haven’t been there much for the past five years or so. The “Kiitokset” song is also about moving abroad from the 1970’s era Finland. Koivu seems to have this thing with romaticizing the 60-70’s Finland and a lot of the lyrics reflect this. Kinda cool as I’m 70’s child as well. In the 70’s everything seemed to be so much better 🙂

  4. transientwriting said,

    Oh ok, very cool. Really I think Matti has a very limited fanbase outside Finland, which is a real shame. I’ve had Google translate some of the lyrics, but as Frost said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Feel free to stick around and read some more of my articles, though my taste in music may not lineup with yours entirely. I’m not a child of the 70’s…

  5. Johan said,

    Actually, based on your reviews our musical tastes aren’t that different. I always thought I’d give up the hard stuff when years pass by but that never happened. The range just got wider. My girlfriend thinks I’m a psycho as I can listen to Matti Johannes Koivu or Weeping Willows and on the next instant Buried At Sea or good ole Carcass. Altho, atm I really dig Godspeed You Black Emperor, Isis, Dead Meadow and Red Sparowes.

  6. transientwriting said,

    Haha, awesome. I’ve turned a few of my metalhead friends onto Matti Koivu. I am slowly getting into stuff like Jesu, Mouth of the Architect (Russian Circles- you may like them if you like Red Sp.), Nadja, Isis, etc. Old school death metal has been my genre of choice for years now but I do like to dabble in others. Even electronica stuff like Erlend Oye, Fennesz, Eluvium, etc. I think if you like extreme metal you’ll probably like a lot of other obscure or different music because you have to be pretty open minded to enjoy a lot of DM. I’m actually waiting to get an interview back from one of my favorite Finns- Antti Boman of Demilich. Should be up by next week!

    Your posts aren’t linking back to a blog, do you run one yourself?

  7. Johan said,

    I agree on the open mindedness. Jesu, Mouth of the Architect and Russian Circles are absolute favourites of mine, especially MotA, they already quit once but are back again! I have some stuff from Nadja too. Surely you’ve heard of Pelican as well? Saw them live in Southampton/UK a while ago (along with These Arms Are Snakes). Now I live far up north in Norway and hardly ever see any live music.

    And no I dont’ have a blog unfortunately. Should start one someday. Apparently, the UFO’s are landing on 14.10.2008 so we’ll see if I feel like blogging after that 🙂

  8. transientwriting said,

    I had no idea about our new friends coming this October, so I found this site:

    Here I was, thinking we dodged a bullet with the magnet failure in the Large Hadron Collider…

    As long as they don’t interrupt a new episode of The Office I’ll be fine.

    Thanks for the chuckle, by the way. If we make it through October we always have the Mayan collapse in 2012….

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