Last year, the Finnish singer-songwriter Mikko Joensuu released his solo debut — or, debuts, rather. Joensuu’s Amen trilogy was an ambitious project that spanned three complete albums that could each work on their own but also came together into a narrative arc tracing his loss of faith over several years. Much of the music therein was, naturally, heartbroken and harrowing, from the heroin gospel and stark folk of Amen, to the occasionally Spiritualized-esque dramatic builds and space rock of Amen 2, to the ambient meditations that dominated Amen 3. It was a deeply impressive and intricate collection of music from a new name, and it prompted us to call Joensuu an Artist To Watch last fall.
Joensuu’s currently on a short solo tour around America, and before his New York show he stopped by Stereogum’s office to play a stripped-down set. Though much of the music on the Amen albums bursts into cathartic climaxes, these are also songs that were written in isolation and often sound like it. All of which is to say: At their core, they also work when stripped down to fragile, frayed renditions on just guitar or piano. Joensuu chose a few of the highlights from those albums, opening with a pairing of Amen 2 tracks, first “What Have I Done” and then a more restrained reading of the album’s stellar opener “Drop Me Down.”
After that, he turned the country-tinged Amen selection “Closer My God” into a haunting piano ballad. There are still plenty of other highlights from the Amen trilogy that Joensuu could choose from there, but instead he opted for a surprise and performed an unreleased song called “I Waste My Time.” It’s a song Joensuu composed at a giant church organ some time ago, and even hearing it in this bare form suggests the swelling tension that could characterize an eventual studio version. Check out video of the whole performance below.