English translation of the Folkroddels review on Polku

In the shade of the bigger names in Finnish music hides a very self-willed, non-compromising text writer and singer Marja Mattlar. Since the eighties she has written songs which will reach few hit parades and perhaps because of that will resist the ravages of the time. Her honest style allows no concession to any trend. Her poetry develops from the silence, in her own living room of Harju, the 150 years old house on the hill of Vuorenkylä, or in nature, woods and lakes, which surround the farm. She sings and plays the guitar, goes on solo tours or if possible with kantele player Eveliina Kontio. Her biggest example is perhaps 19th century singer Kreeta Haapasalo, who went from house to house, sang about life’s sorrows and joys, nature, the circle of life and dead. Also Marja prefers playing without amplifiers, in very intimate places, to get the best contact with her audience. In that sense she released a second solo album recently Vuorenkylässä recorded live in her own living room. A first live-album Belgiassa was recorded ten years ago, while touring with cello player Outi Rapia. Finally, it is surprising that her lyrics attracted the attention of heavy metal band Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus, who covered a few of her songs between 2000 and 2002.

Only recently she released a fifth studio album Polku. On this album she collaborates with Ilmari Issakainen and Tyko Saarikko, members of the Finnish neo folk/ambient gothic group Tenhi. Earlier she collaborated among others with Gabriel Yacoub and Patrice Clementin (debut album Pariisi–Vuorenkylä, 1993), Pekka Pohjola (Lumi, 1996), Gabriel Yacoub and Jaakko Viitala (Vesi, 2000) and the Finnish rock musician Yari (Tuli, 2003). Every time she is looking for new musical challenges in collaboration with arrangers and musicians whose music touched her personally.

Creating a contemplative atmosphere that invites you to introspection is the central issue in all her albums. She lets the nature speak by using powerful metaphors that are telling us something about ‘the things of life’ without saying them directly or without moralising. It’s not a coincidence that the titles of her albums are related very closely to nature elements. And it’s not a coincidence either that her album with Tenhi sounded perfect again. Their music situates itself in the ambient, dark neo folk style. Their basic concept is about considering a song as a canvas, on which the instruments colour the song to create a painting. They will also use visual pictures that will result in the layout of the booklet where each time a picture will illustrate the different lyrics. Also nature is the central element in their music,… and the melancholy, the gloominess which isn’t necessary a negative feeling.

It asks some willingness of the listener to step into the desolate, dark, sad, minimalist sounds of violin (Inka Eerola) and violoncello (Unna Kemppainen), kantele (Eveliina Kontio) and hobo (Aila Hettula), keyboards, piano, bass, harmonium and drums (Tyko and Ilmari). Her slowly advancing songs frequently have a melancholic or dark note, concerning the delicacy of human communication and relationships, the finiteness of living, saying farewell and handling loss, the relation to nature. Every time she creates a tension that is balanced in a synthesis, without forcing solutions. With her sensitive and steady voice she succeeds to link her voice to the lyrics. That way her message gets understandable for non-Finns. (Even though the translation of her lyrics in the booklet are more than welcome.) She avoids uptempos, that way each sound gets its full expression. Also the way in which she uses silences to give extra strength to a coming rhyme is remarkable. Her texts are so rich, that following the English lyrics in the booklet is an absolute must.

With the opener Yön yli we dive immediately into darkness, in an ode to nocturnal nature, which radiates its own heat and creates the expectation of coming new day. In Peili she confronts us with the way the mirror shows us our beautiful and dreadful sides. A truly example of how minimal arrangements create a lighted painting. Kuin taivaissa is a splendid metaphor about the emancipation of woman and Pinnan alla is about hope, missed chances and the very first hope that returns when the very last hope was given up. A gem in which the hobo can put unsuspected accents is Etkä sinä minua. Here we face the ever-recurring theme of inescapable limits in every human relation. In addition, the limits of the language are very symbolically sung in Sanoiksi lauluun, concerning how difficult it is formulate experiences in a song. We also find hallucinating poetry in Ajan vartija, in which she performs the life of a man who, sitting on his chair, is observing the course of time hour by hour. Elämän eteisessä is about the loneliness of wood after the shipwreck. The afterword is offered in Mikä jää concerning the mortality of people and each sensual experience, once again an enchanting and melancholic melody, richly arranged by using most of the present instruments. Each played note has its place and meaning.