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.


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