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
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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.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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