‘Amen 1’ as a whole introduces a new and revitalising taste to the folk scene
Mikko Joensuu has been writing music with a deliberate lack of conscious sense over form or structure for the last ten years of his career, to heighten the meaning of his craft. After a successful career fronting Joensuu 1685 with his family and friends, the Finnish songwriter has moved to a more melancholic and pensive process to his writings. Isolating himself in the woodlands of Finland to be alone with his thoughts and ideas, Joensuu has created a trilogy of albums (‘Amen 1,2 and 3’), to be released over the next twelve months. In many ways ‘Amen 1’ has blessed the acoustic/folk world, filling the void that other influential folk bands like Mumford & Sons and Ray LaMontagne have left behind, for a more genuine and humbled sound.
The eight-track LP opens with ‘Enjoy It While It Lasts’, featuring a string quartet over a finger plucked guitar, like an old Elvis Presley song, before Mikko’s signature vocals wash over the guitar, filling the space with a booming reverb. The track begins to build itself up with more strings and dobro instalments, over stigmatic yodelling vocals, accompanied by an angelic chorus of voices. Within the first three minutes Mikko has already hinted at the album’s beautiful maturity throughout, that quantifies to an easy listening yet heart wrenching album.
‘Sometimes You Have To Go Far’ starts off with pulsing piano chords, beating over more emotive strings and the tidal waves of reverb. Joensuu stays true to his roots, with a lack of percussive quality throughout the album, only featuring a steady bass beat to back up the power of the chords, that progresses into a brushed snare attack. Verging on the melodic line of a hymn, Joensuu croons ‘I don’t need a signal/ Don’t ask God for a sign/ When you’re not waiting for nothing/ There’s not a thing called time’, with the first implications of a holy album. However, this track opts to the more artisan, self-made holiness, truly reflecting on the power of self-realisation that Mikko is adamant for in his writings. ‘Warning Signs’ follows, a track that received recognition leading to his release for its simplicity and effectiveness. The artist holds the ability to take the listener to another world with his music, immersing them with captivating structure. Following the concept of strings, choir and piano, Amen 1’s linear structure is delightfully revealed, with clear limitations to enhance the quality, of concept and sound.
‘Closer to God’ completely changes the style from the get go, hitting hard in a minor key, with a steady Johnny Cash bass line over calming dobro lines. Percussion, or the lack of, is used effectively backing up the rhythm and chiming in over development, inflicting emphasis over the lines ‘I was baptised in blood’, showcasing a darker side to the singers croons. Despite the out of place feel, the track is a stand alone hit, as Mikko takes it to a flamenco style over a classical cello line, whilst the original rhythmic complexions remain undisturbed. However, despite the fast paced track the album returns to the calming and dreamlike conception which upsets the flow and direction of ‘Amen 1’, leaving ‘I’d Give You All’ to sound more of the same. All is not lost though, as ‘Thief and A Liar’ begins with an ease of John Smith, and Irish folk alike, with a slower progression, and less development to reveal the vulnerability of Mikko’s insecurities and his supposed sins.
‘Valley of Gold’ finalises the first instalment of the trilogy, leaving us on an upbeat banjo line over finger-style guitars. Embracing folk and country, and concluding on one of his more stripped back songs, ‘Valley of Gold’ unequivocally wraps the album with modesty and a heart-warming sensibility. The simplicity of the song and the album alike has left us waiting in anticipation for the inevitable development of the track, yet Mikko holds back, finalising the album with a harmonica line over the last chorus, ending on an intimate and raw sound of Mikko removing his instrument in a wooden and natural studio.
Although transporting you to another world when listening, Mikko stumbles occasionally over the idea of a limited concept and the direction of his album. Although ‘Closer to God’ and ‘Thief And A Liar’ don’t leave the theme of ‘Amen 1’, they cause so much of a surprise that they almost sound a part of an entirely separate project. It leaves what comes after to sound lacklustre and unimpressive compared to his previously immersive and intense sound. Regardless, ‘Amen 1’ as a whole introduces a new and revitalising taste to the folk scene and merely hints at the complexities that are soon to follow with Mikko’s highly anticipated follow up albums, that are sure not to disappoint.
This article was written by John Gittins, a Gigsoup contributor.