Release Date: Apr 13, 2010
Record label: Dead Oceans
Genre(s): Rock, Folk, Singer-Songwriter
Nowadays, there’s an insidious morbidity in how the general public perceives the archetypal folk musician. He’s romanticized as this lonesome, rallied off track troubadour with solemn intentions and a deep search for meaning, perceiving the injustices of an ever-increasing contemporary lifestyle, escorted by the never-ending rough land. He’s the protector to us all; his land is his muse.
With a strange, uncharacteristic voice that may attract many for the same reasons it repulses some (and it’s those in the latter set that truly miss out), The Tallest Man on Earth serves lesson number one in field recordings and folk: that the surface should never be the sole selling point. While his latest may not be as triumphant as his debut LP, Shallow Grave, The Wild Hunt is a worthy effort indeed. Underneath his boots of Spanish leather, Swede Kristian Matsson’s tightly wound creek-bed tales declare Americana a universal language.
Pesky comparisons to Bob Dylan have dogged Kristian Matsson throughout his short career as the Tallest Man on Earth. In 2006, his self-titled EP introduced a singer with that familiar croak, a songwriter with a folk-revival revival sensibility, and a guitar player with an impressively agile fingerpicking style. The next year, his full-length debut, Shallow Grave, expanded nicely on those ideas, buffing away some of the rougher edges but emphasizing fully realized and beautifully evocative songs.
Kristian Matsson may never escape comparisons to folk-era Bob Dylan, but on his second full-length as The Tallest Man on Earth, the Swedish singer/songwriter seems unconcerned about that. [rssbreak] Aside from piano-driven closer Kids On The Run, it's still just Matsson and his guitar, a sparse arrangement he manages to wring a lot out of, thanks to his evocative nasal delivery (sound familiar?) and acoustic guitar proficiency. From the nimbly finger-picked Troubles Will Be Gone to the emphatically strummed King Of Spain, he provides instrumental variety that never overshadows his poetic lyrics.
It's an odd quirk that excellent English speakers from international schools pick up an American accent thanks to watching Hollywood movies. Swede Kristian Matsson (aka the Tallest Man ...) presumably learned English from listening to Highway 61 Revisited, such is his singing voice's Dylan-ness on his second LP. Matsson's approach is as simple as his gilded predecessor's early work – it's just him and a guitar throughout, but he plays wonderfully, imbibing each track with flickering acoustic melodies which he Zimmermans all over.
In nearly every respect, Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson's second full-length outing as the Tallest Man on Earth is a direct continuation of the stripped-down roots folk style he introduced on his debut -- an album that was deeply, unambiguously steeped in rural American folk tradition but also the product of a strong singular vision and voice. Arguably the most significant difference this time out is the wider stateside distribution that The Wild Hunt will enjoy thanks to its presence on Dead Oceans, and, hopefully, an attendant increase in exposure. It's richly deserved: even if -- as may initially seem to be the case -- this album offered nothing more than another ten songs cut from Shallow Grave's rough-hewn yet rarefied cloth, it would be considerable cause for celebration; for an ostensible one trick pony, Matsson's got a hell of a trick.
Swedish Americana master lodges excellent sophomore LP Kristian Matsson plays to his strengths on The Wild Hunt, his second album. It’s a smart move. He keeps it simple, finger-picking strings to propel his gristly vocal melodies, which feel simultaneously cavalier and carefully wrought. Though his acoustic guitar often thwacks like a snare, his songs are uncluttered by percussion, harmonized vocals or the kinds of orchestral ornaments that are so prevalent in current alt-folk.
What is revivalism anyway? Is it simply the rebirth of something long gone? New life breathed into sounds old or thought dead? Is revivalism easy to spot? Is there a difference between being part of a revival—which implies some fleeting interest—and tapping into a tradition? How can we tell the difference? I raise those questions because it’s artists like Kristian Matsson—who is the Tallest Man on Earth (in name only)—that make me rethink all that stuff. There is a big difference between channeling tradition and standing on the shoulders of giants, and if I had to place Matsson in one of those camps, I’d had to go with the former. But here’s the thing: Listening to The Wild Hunt, I’m not sure he’s doing either.
Fingerpickin’ like a bat out of hell and with a voice like Bob Dylan’s 49th night terror, Sweden’s Kristian Matsson, a.k.a. The Tallest Man On Earth, came out of nowhere with 2008’s stunningly tense Shallow Grave. Well, technically, I guess he came out of Sweden. Anyway, that record was Dylan on Benzedrine; Matsson’s fierce, blood-curdling yelps and fiery guitarisms turned a frightfully familiar formula into something new and exciting.
What with First Aid Kit, Jose Gonzales, Loney, Dear and The Tallest Man On Earth, Sweden is becoming as well known for its folk/acoustic-led bands as its electro/dance music (or whatever you want to term those scenes, if scenes they are, what with genre names being endlessly fluid). Kristian Matsson, the so monikered Tallest Man On Earth is usually given the tag of folk, but that seems debatable. In his interview with DiS he said “I don’t consider myself a folk singer.
Part of the charm that made The Tallest Man on Earth’s Kristian Matsson’s music so special was his peculiar vocal timbre. Whilst resembling Bob Dylan’s crooning slyness, it was Matsson’s skillful guitar and banjo playing that would leave a lasting impression. Whether he was weaving in and out of acoustic lightness that called for placid strumming or lightly flicking away around an intricate melody, there was a tenacious amount of craft swirling around.
A heady and enthralling work full of charm and confidence. James Skinner 2010 Sweden’s Kristian Matsson – The Tallest Man on Earth to you and I – is an old-fashioned success story of sorts. Following his posting of a few primitively recorded tracks to MySpace a few years ago, it wasn’t long before a local label head came knocking and he was touring the wilds of his native country, barely enough songs behind him to carry a set list.
THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH The Wild Hunt (DEAD OCEANS) Rating: While Kristian Matsson’s pseudonym would suggest he has quite a physical presence, he appears to be of average height. However, what the Swedish native lacks vertically, he more than makes up for vocally. His idiosyncratic croon, variously overpowering his guitar work and underscoring his distinct musical approach, commands your attention as soon as it interrupts the beginning of each of his songs.