Monday, May 2, 2011

The Tallest Man On Earth- The Wild Hunt

Superficially speaking, there has perhaps never been someone who so openly evokes Bob Dylan's early 60s folk output as The Tallest Man On Earth. Though from Sweden, Kristian Matsson's pinched, slightly abrasive, and nasally vocals feel like the work of the former Minnesotan who moved to New York to meet Woody Guthrie and work on his icy cool persona. Yet I said “superficially” for a reason, because past the immediate surface similarity of their voices and the solo acoustic instrumentation, the two artists are quite distinct. Dylan covered and/or stole from the folk music standards while sticking to an acoustic and harmonica; Matsson writes his own material and sometimes employs a banjo, or on The Wild Hunt's stunning closing track, 'Kids On The Run', a piano. All of that said, if the quality of songwriting and impassioned performances on this record are anything to go by, I wouldn't be disappointed if he, too, went electric at some point and then had a long, engaging career like the old master did (and continues to!).

Actually, the more I listen to The Tallest Man On Earth, I also get a Van Morrison hint in the vocals. Matsson pushes his voice further on The Wild Hunt than the debut Shallow Grave, with a power and grace that recalls Astral Weeks, minus some of the jazzy inflections and repeated words/sounds. Perhaps it would be better to say Matsson bellows while Morrison belts. The way he twists around the “but now you're going back, you're going back, you're-or-going back” line on 'You're Going Back' has a Depression era country/folk feel and makes me think of a random YouTube comment about how someone listened to music that was “too hillbilly for the hillbillies.” Meanwhile, there's a worldliness and sophistication to 'King Of Spain' which belies Matsson's Swedish origin. It'd be hard to imagine, say, a David Berman or Justin Vernon writing a line like “but while we're floating in siestas/you search for bottles and for knives” or holding onto the final “the” of the song in a heart-stopping final flourish.

Matsson makes an asset of his limited palette of sounds, crafting one of the finest sophomore albums in recent memory, lacking any true surprises or changes from his debut but improving on it every way. There is an attention to detail and imagination to the arrangements such that, despite their sparseness, they never have the samey-sounding tedium of most stripped down singer/songwriter albums. Matsson's vocals must get the majority of the credit, but his supple, graceful fingerpicking, as well as the buoyant chording on tracks like 'Burden Of Tomorrow', deserve some praise, too. All of this is also to say that The Wild Hunt is the kind of record which makes you just as excited to see where the artist goes next. True, he's already making music that realizes his potential and promise, but I can't help anticipating his next move, too, because this is the sort of album that makes one believe the best is yet to come. His reputation isn't assured just yet, though the cement is being mixed.

Not since For Emma, Forever Ago has a singer/songwriter album seemed so distinctive and consistently great, simultaneously bringing to mind forefathers and deflecting comparisons, too. Whether he goes electric or stays bellowing from behind a banjo for a bit longer, The Wild Hunt will remain the proof that Matsson is a talent of seemingly limitless potential, some of it already realized.

5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

1 comment:

FreeBird said...

agreed. The tallest man on earth is great talent! Love his music.