The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Record Label: Dead Oceans Records
Release Date: April 13, 2010
When tasked with reviewing The Tallest Man on Earth’s previous effort, 2008’s Shallow Grave, former AP.net writer Travis Parno said, “...somehow a whimsical man from Sweden has walked silently among nature’s secrets and penned her subtle fancies in a suitably concise album of verdant gems.” Although this is the first time I’ve ever seen the word verdant – context clues tell me it means onion-like – I think Mr. Parno has a point. On The Wild Hunt, Swedish maestro Kristian Matsson once again constructs lively, emotional pieces with nothing more than his strangely authentic Southern drawl and nimble fingers. The lyrics are beyond superb, especially since Matsson’s inner psyche plays a bigger part, and they so gracefully remove us from our urban sprawl alongside melodies as commonplace as the rising sun. It’s a new dose of his old stuff, which was really just a new dose of really old stuff in the first place. So it’s essentially really really old, really really new stuff. Verily!
The first strum of opener “The Wild Hunt” is an instant pleasure. Add a banjo accompaniment and, of course, Matsson’s scratchy delivery of lyrics like, “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” and you’ve arrived at the St. Peter’s Gate of folk music. As it should, the lo-fi production allows us to hear every creak and crack. When Matsson strains on “Burden of Tomorrow,” we hear the effort. As the (literal) toe-tapper “The Drying of the Lawns” plays by, we picture the dingy, wooden room it’s inspired by. But perhaps most interesting in its rawness is “King of Spain,” if only because it borders on sounding complicated. This is mostly a testament to Matsson’s fierce guitar skills, but also to the overpowering groove of his voice. His dreams of something more are profound here, too: “Why are you stamping my illusion? / Just cause I stole some eagle’s wings / Because you need me as your lover / Well I thought I could be anything.” It seems improbable, but in this wacky world of indie-is-mainstream maybe Matsson could find his songs in a beer commercial. Or maybe even an iPod commercial!
The Wild Hunt is an opus, and that sort of makes me nervous. We talk of opuses as final testaments, things that can’t be eclipsed. It is certainly more dynamic and intricate than Shallow Grave, which may imply a superhuman ability to make small changes for gargantuan results. Because let’s be honest, there’s not a whole lot to mess with here. There is always creative lyrical concepts and new tempos, but Matsson’s voice will always sound like this and it will always sound best with music like this. But closer “Kids on the Run” may point to a new vitality for The Tallest Man on Earth. An ominous piano dominates the foreground while Matsson literally croons lines like, “And no we will never be a part of the pictures once taken / When we’re feeding fire with the flames ‘til no memories gone / And the cold sky will write us a song / But will we ever confess what we’ve done / Guess we’re still kids on the run.” It’s only heartbreaking because it ends. And it’s simply timeless because that’s how it makes me feel.
Recommended If You Like: French Quarter, Bob Dylan, (why not) The Dodos
Had no idea this was coming out but this sounds phenomenal. New Tallest Man on Earth CD and new Josh Ritter coming out later in the year. I'm starting to think 2010 is going to be better than '09 at least for me.