Tallest Man On Earth – the stage name for Kristian Matsson – has released three albums filled with folk tracks that channelled his inner Dylan through skeletal songs built on little more than his fantastic guitar skills. His last album ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ featured him taking steps towards the more electric side of folk music as he ‘plugged in’. Many felt it was a regression, I myself found it to be his most enjoyable listening experience yet with some of his most compelling songs to date on it. Upon the news that he was planning to make an album filled with more instrumentation I rejoiced; this would surely be a stunning project, would this be the ‘Bon Iver’ to his ‘For Emma Forever Ago’?
The short answer to this is no, but this album isn’t bad and does have some great moments. The album opener ‘Fields Of Our Home’ is perfectly stunning and is the exact sound that should be heard on a record from Tallest Man On Earth. The song is almost like a teaser for the rest of the album opening with Matsson and gently playing acoustic guitar before easing us into these beautiful string pieces and angelic backing vocals. Or even better on the title track to the album where it’s a gentle acoustic ballad throughout the entire song until the end where the instrumentation comes blasting in furiously. Songs like these are subtle and still hold that spark that’s always been present in Matsson’s songs.
Over the course of Matsonn’s career he’s slowly started dropping the extremely strong twang on his voice that characterised his early works. It’s left him with a voice that’s a lot more digestible but no less poignant emotionally. His voice will often crack and bring that emotional pain that drew so many people to his music in the first place. But what it really sounds like he’s doing on this album is actually making room for the new instrumentation that he’s bringing to the table, which turns out to be the problem with a fair few of the songs on this album. It should never sound like you have to make room for a new element in your music, and that element should never become detrimental to your songs.
The instrumentation on a lot of these songs feel so shoehorned in, to the point where they suck out a bit of Matsonn’s charm. The second song on the album ‘Darkness Of The Dream’ is a testament to this. The tambourines and keys sound like bells and whistles rather than the enhancement we got in the opening song. ‘Slow Dance’ is another track where a perfectly good song with some fantastic French horns and an acoustic backdrop is dampened by the fact that the song is covered with walls of reverb saturated noise and hand claps. Whereas the songs with a genuine groove and instrumentation that swell and build the songs up are fantastic on this album. ‘Timothy’ has a celtic sound to it that doesn’t just feel like something that was added during the post-production of the songs and was instead actually PART of the songs.
The biggest problem with this album is that Matsonn hasn’t adapted his song-writing style to suit the big sound he wants to go for. You can imagine that most of these songs were probably written with just him and his acoustic guitar and then the effects were added in afterwards, because the song-writing itself still sounds brilliant. Matsonn has a way with words that sounds so stunning. He can string together obscure metaphors in his lyrics that sound like poetry, especially when they’re sung in the melodic way he does like on ‘Little Nowhere Town’. It’s just the way in which he’s dealt with a lot of the songs after they’ve been written that’s the problem. ‘There’s No Leaving Now’ succeeded in that you got a sense that his compositions on his warbling electric guitars were dealt with care and subtlety. ‘Dark Bird Is Home’ fails when it sounds like the opposite of that.
Best Tracks: Timothy, Fields Of Our Home, Dark Bird Is Home