The TALLEST MAN ON EARTH – ” Some Songs “

Posted: August 31, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth, is a Dylan successor if there ever was one. In fact, some music writers and fans may even feel his voice is a little too reminiscent of Dylan’s. His tendency to write music that’s more raw and stripped-down paired with his strained, gruff vocals make the comparison almost too obvious. But, then again, Matsson’s music is still something singular. Across five LPs and three EPs, the Swedish singer/songwriter and fingerpicker extraordinaire has charmed his way through folk circles and indie rock strongholds alike, positioning himself as one of the finest roots musicians working. Last year, he veered away from the strictly rustic style of his first four LPs in exchange for a more elaborate setup on I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream.: horn sections, electronic blips, atmospheric effects. But at the core of all his music is Matsson’s introspective song-writing sensibilities and his banjo (or guitar, depending on the song). In honour of one of the best artists in the world of indie folk, Matsson has a broad fanbase, but The Wild Hunt in particular has steadily acquired new fans and has aged especially gracefully over the last decade. Here are 10 of our favourite songs from his catalogue.

“Sagres”

While 2015’s Dark Bird Is Home is by and large a bit of a dark spot on Matsson’s otherwise untarnished discography, there are a few moments of reprieve within it. One of those is “Sagres,” a jangly folk-pop number that pays respect to Cape Sagres, a headland in the southwest of Portugal that’s nicknamed the “end of the road.” In the song, however, Matsson toils in the end of a relationship and starts to question everything, lamenting “It’s just all this fucking doubt,” at one exasperated point in the song.

“It Will Follow The Rain”

Matsson leans fully into his folklorist side on this cut from his self-titled debut EP. Mentioning mountains, valleys and lightning strikes, this song was just the tip of iceberg when it comes to The Tallest Man On Earth’s obsession with the natural world. Some of his best work references our Mother Earth, and this song in particular contains a hopeful, pastoral energy as Matsson compares life to the fleeting nature of a rainstorm.

“Little River”

His 2010 EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird contains some of Matsson’s best work, not least among it being “Little River.” If it weren’t for a rolling, quickened under-beat and a rather morose conclusion (“You just sing about your own death in your closet / You stumble out into the pitch-black hallway,” he sings at one point), it’d make the perfect lullaby.

“1904”

“1904” is undoubtedly one of the jammier songs across Matsson’s eight projects, benefitting greatly from an electric guitar groove. Apparently the song references a devastating earthquake that rocked Sweden and Norway in the titular year, but you needn’t have any knowledge of natural disasters to make sense of this pleasant folk-rock tune.

“Shallow Grave”

In all honesty, there isn’t much dispute among fans about which of the Tallest Man On Earth’s albums are best: 2008’s Shallow Grave and the proceeding The Wild Hunt (2010) are almost always going to come out on top. The title track from the former contains all the elements that make this pair of albums so interesting and listenable: a relentless banjo lick, existential ramblings and Matsson’s inimitable scratchy-throated cry. The narrator here is down-on-his-luck, and Matsson finds the most lyrically beautiful ways to convey this unrest: “I found the darkness in my neighbour / I found the fire in the frost / I found the season once claimed healthy / Oh, I need the guidance of the lost.” Following his debut album Shallow Grave in 2008, Matsson was invited to tour with indie-folk lord Bon Iver.

“Troubles Will Be Gone”

The human condition is one of constant searching and exhaustion. We have no assurance that things will be “OK,” as friends and family so often try to convince us. But, at the same time, their dedication to helping us believe everything will turn out alright is in itself proof that no matter what happens, life goes on, because we have loved ones around to see us through it. Matsson infuses a near-perfect banjo melody with this promise on “Troubles Will Be Gone”: “Well the day is never done / But there’s a light on where you’re sleeping / So I hope somewhere that troubles will be gone.” The Wild Hunt, his sophomore LP released on April 13th, 2010, Matsson makes the acoustic guitar sound like an orchestra on “You’re Going Back” and the banjo like a full-throttled band on “Troubles Will Be Gone,” a song about goodwill written in the verbal style of Robert Frost. The entire album is full of these tiny orchestras and miniature choirs—a sound few of Matsson’s contemporaries were able to recreate. But many folk artists who’ve arrived in years after The Wild Hunt have seemingly been taking notes. The like-minded Joan Shelley treats her acoustic guitar with a similar reverence, instrumental artist and former Silver Jews musician William Tyler probably learned a thing or two about pacing and rhythm from Matsson and Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor carries on the legacy of curving his sultry, lilting vocals into a style resembling Dylan, as do Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee, who share that same distinct vocal formula. The Wild Hunt gave proceeding indie-folk artists something to aspire to in terms of both authenticity and craft.

“I Won’t Be Found”

This is, technically speaking, a lovely display of Matsson’s talents. The cascade of banjo is enough to convince anyone to be on his side. But the lyrics, too, help you root for Matsson, as he projects plans for the future before realizing that, if he’s not focusing on the present, he might as well be asleep. “Well if I ever get that slumber / I’ll be that mole deep in the ground,” he sings. “And I won’t be found.”

“Burden of Tomorrow”

Who among us hasn’t fretted over what tomorrow will bring? Here, Matsson promises a partner he’ll be one less thing to worry about, while also acknowledging that while we can think about the future all we want, we truly have no clue what it will bring. We just have to meet it when it comes: “Oh but hell I’m just a blind man on the plains,” he sings over pristine guitar. “I drink my water when it rains / And live by chance among the lightning strikes.” Stylistically, The Wild Hunt isn’t all that different from the mystical, lean and perhaps even more lyrically forthright Shallow Grave. The Wild Hunt is only four minutes longer than Shallow Grave’s half-hour runtime, and like its predecessor, it only features a handful of instruments—never drums—and little to no production effects. Where Bon Iver may flirt with the occasional droning feedback and Marcus Mumford a thundering electric guitar solo, Matsson was strictly acoustic and, usually, strictly analogue. While he has a knack for layered wordplay in the vein of Dylan, rusticity was—and remains—his greatest strength. Kristian Matsson injected light and love into a form of music-making that was half-a-century old at this point, and he made it into something new, singular and sustainable. The Wild Hunt remains an aspirational album in that regard—few roots artists have managed to finesse such an act since.

“Love Is All”

“Love Is All” is The Tallest Man On Earth’s “hit”—and for good reason. It’s the perfect entry point into his catalogue and a damn good folk song in its own right. He recounts the dreadful end of a relationship, and, from the point of the listener, it sounds like he’s brusied beyond repair (“Love is all, from what I’ve heard, but my heart’s learned to kill”). But instead of dwelling on the lost “future” of this couplehood, he releases his regret: “Here come the tears / But like always, I let them go / Just let them go.” Further perfecting his tilted, Dylan-esque vocal delivery, Matsson (who, miraculously, learned English as his second language) spends the bulk of The Wild Hunt spitting out sturdy metaphors and basking in a pastoral wonderland. The album’s high points—including the back-to-back pair “King of Spain” and “Love is All,” easily two of his most popular singles to date—are the closest things you’ll ever hear to pop songs in The Tallest Man On Earth’s catalogue. The former expresses desire to pack up and start life over at a lover’s side on Spanish shores, while the latter is a kind of all-encompassing epic poem about the beauties and dangers of love. That may sound like a grandiose description, but Matsson has a way of making even the shortest folk song into something almost biblical. “Like a house made from spider webs and the clouds rolling in / I bet this mighty river’s both my saviour and my sin,” he sings on the spritely “Love is All.”

“The Gardener”

The Tallest Man on Earth’s “The Gardener” is a metaphorical story of hiding one’s ugliness to better be the apple of a lover’s eye. The verses are patterned a certain way, each a distinct scene recounting a figurative body buried, with the sort of subtle variations that keep you grasping always for the next lyric, imagining the garden you have made.

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