Music

The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt

On The Wild Hunt, we can keep early Dylan in mind, as long as we don't give him too much sway over the record. Because Matsson is very much in his own musical world.


The Tallest Man on Earth

The Wild Hunt

US Release: 2010-04-13
Label: Dead Oceans
UK Release: Import
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

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. Yes, the early-Dylan folk feel is very much in place on this record. It's still just Matsson and his guitar for most of the record. There's no stepping away from the intimate, threadbare sound of Shallow Grave. So, The Wild Hunt is unlikely to change the musical connections you've already made with Matsson on that album. Yet, if you can set aside your connections, and approach this album on its own terms, something strange might occur to you. Matsson is singing these songs like he's never heard of Bob Dylan, or Greenwich, or any tradition at all. This is a sound that is very much his -- embedded in every note he plucks from his guitar, every word that creaks out of his mouth. He may still owe quite a bit to some musical legends, but he does them, and himself, the most justice by not nodding to them on this record. The Wild Hunt is his record, first and foremost. And it is an excellent record.

It is also a record that manages to expand his sound through restriction. He doesn't try to add sounds to branch his music out. Instead, these songs take simple melodies, much like Shallow Grave, and tighten them up into confident, wholly arresting folk songs. He also subtly breaks off from Dylan -- who in those early years established his melody and repeated it as a spare foundation for endless strings of words -- by making his guitar as emotive as his voice. He delivers notes in a bright, pastoral roll on "Troubles Will Be Gone", hinting at the easier days he's aiming for. Chords thump restlessly through the title track, while Matsson muses about wanderlust with an infectious zeal. In the next track, "Burden of Tomorrow", he sings lines like, "Once I held a pony by its flying mane", and the churning guitar echoes that sort of cut-free riding.

On top of the pitch-perfect inflections in his playing, Matsson's vocals performance here is stunning. The sweet creak of his voice is way up in the mix, and he sings each song like he's trying to pull free of it. The way he belts out the chorus on "You're Going Back", or the demand in his voice at the end of "King of Spain", or even the hushed, tense croak of "Love Is All" -- each track shows Matsson letting loose, whipping these songs up into something both love-worn and hopeful. Shallow Grave showed how well his cracked voice could work in contained melodies, but here he breaks free and shows off a staggering range. The Wild Hunt, from the fidgety joy of the opening track right on down, mirrors that freedom. Matsson is no longer in that shallow grave, he's not resigned to working the garden, he's a man on the run and happy to be. He's not running from something or to anywhere in particular. We're in that wandering middle with him on The Wild Hunt, and it sounds awfully exciting.

There is one big change on the record with closer "Kids on the Run." The title itself sounds out of place, and as it turns out it's a wholly different direction for Matsson. Where we all turn to early Dylan with the Tallest Man on Earth as some sort of marker, this track channels a more current king of American music. The track, the only one here performed on piano, sounds much more like the Boss. In fact, it could be a demo from Darkness on the Edge of Town, if Matsson's voice could drop a few octaves and take on the more pained rust of Springsteen's voice. Still, the song shares plenty with the Boss's best stuff -- there are mentions of redemption and desire, the communal "we", kids running away for a fresh start. However, like all those mentions of Dylan, these connections are ours, not Matsson's. It may be a jarring shift at first, to see him leave an album of guitar-folk behind for a piano ballad, but once you warm up to it, it's a brilliant album closer, and another example of his preternatural understanding of folk music, and of balladry, that goes beyond any mimicry or borrowing we might want to place on his songs.

With The Wild Hunt, we're two albums in with Matsson, and he has proved he can do quite a bit with his spare elements. So, if he keeps up this kind of brilliant consistency, at some point we'll stop talking about who he sounds like, and we'll start comparing new artists to him. Until then, we can keep those musical forefathers in mind, as long as we don't give them too much sway over what's happening on this record. Because the Tallest Man on Earth, in each of these excellent songs, is very much in his own musical world.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image