Reviews

The Tallest Man on Earth: 2 May 2010 - Austin, TX

Ryan Lester

Matsson has carved himself a place as one of modern folk music’s most important artists, and his performance at Stubb’s handily proved that he is a live act that is not to be missed.

The Tallest Man on Earth

The Tallest Man on Earth

City: Austin, TX
Venue: Stubb's
Date: 2010-05-02

“We couldn’t do a sound check because Norah Jones was playing outside,” said Kristian Matsson, the man more commonly known as The Tallest Man on Earth, during the middle of his set. Sound check or not, Matsson’s blend of minimalist folk rock managed to sound vital and awe-inspiring as he played to a sold out indoor stage at Stubb’s May 2. The crowd did not seem to mind either, as many of his songs received rapturous applause throughout the night.

Armed with little more than an acoustic guitar and his bewildering voice, Matsson has been riding a wave of much deserved hype over the past few months. His debut album, 2008’s Shallow Grave introduced the world to his gifts as a guitar player, a lyricist, and a vocalist, with all three receiving comparisons to early Bob Dylan, quite an honor for a twenty-something from Sweden. While many artists have been hailed as “The Next Dylan” over the years, The Tallest Man on Earth did what many of those before him could not; make an album full of memorable, no-nonsense folk songs that play to all of the strengths of his influences.

From his finger plucked guitar playing to his vivid lyrics delivered in a raw croak that is at once familiar and endearing, he immediately separated himself from others in the folk revival movement simply by being exceedingly good at what he does. The Wild Hunt, released in April to almost universal acclaim, saw Matsson honing in on his skills and expanding his sound while staying true to the stripped down approach. The intimacy, immediacy, and unyielding energy that is present on his records was felt in full force during his performance, as he poured all that he had into ensuring that he would leave his mark on the Live Music Capital of the World.

Opening band Nurses were an interesting choice for Matsson to bring with him on tour. Their stage set up was an early indicator of what they would sound like, which consisted of two electronics boards, a guitar stand, and a small drum set. A folk group this was not. From the opening notes of the group’s first song, it was obvious that the band can conceivably cite Animal Collective as one of their primary influences. The nasally, reverberated vocals of lead singer Aaron Chapman sounded as if Panda Bear was being channeled through a different body. Hell, fellow knob twiddler John Bowers looks a lot like Geologist. Despite this, the combination of electronic piano swirls, odd noises, and lovely vocal harmonies made for some very catchy songs, any of which would not be out of place as B-Sides to Feels or Strawberry Jam.

It’s unfortunate that Animal Collective almost have a monopoly on the style of music Nurses play, because they were quite good in their own right. They were genuinely in to what they were playing, the music sounded great, and they put on a fun show. However, the comparisons will always be there, and will likely loom over them until they differentiate themselves in some way. Still, the band did not disappoint with their set, and the masses of people waiting to see The Tallest Man on Earth gave them a very ample applause when they finished.

When Matsson finally took the stage, the crowd gave him a hero’s welcome as he eased his way into the title track from The Wild Hunt. His voice was damn near pitch perfect to its recorded counterpart, and he displayed amazing vocal control. While some of the more organic tones of his acoustic guitars were absent from being plugged into an amplifier, his finger picking and strumming still sounded downright beautiful, creating the lush soundscapes over which he sang. This level of quality continued throughout his performance; many people simply closed their eyes and let Matsson serenade them. Despite being packed into a small, stuffy room at 11:30 on a Sunday night, concertgoers let the music take them to a place where a single man with a guitar holds the power to transcend the notion of place.

There were many highlights in Matsson’s set, including the gorgeous “I Won’t Be Found”, which contains some of his most vibrant lyrics, Wild Hunt standout “Troubles Will Be Gone” and the on edge sound of “Pistol Dreams”. There was a healthy mix of material from both albums, each song played with the same amount of energy and technical finesse as the last. One notable absence was the title track from Shallow Grave, as Matsson did not bring a banjo with him. However, songs “The Gardener” and “You’re Going Back” more than made up for that minor omission.

In addition to his chops as a musician, Matsson proved to be quite the showman, as he moved around on stage and would occasionally look to the balcony above, appreciating the fact that some audience members were dancing to his songs. Although he could belt out a tune with the best of them, he was surprisingly soft spoken as he addressed the crowd, his most common phrase being “Thanks for being so nice to me.” Of course, when your music speaks for itself, you do not need the bombast and arrogance of a rock and roll star to make your mark, and this made Matsson all the more relatable.

His main set closed with arguably his most popular song, the chill inducing “King of Spain”. On top of a runaway guitar riff, Matsson’s voice sounded vibrant and free. At the end of the song, while holding a note before heading into the outro, his voice became nearly unhinged, sounding as if it would break at any moment. However, it kept, and he was able to sing the last few words without a hitch. The fact that he is able to do this night in and night out is a testament to his abilities as an artist, and one of the many qualities that makes him a unique talent.

While it may be easy to describe The Tallest Man on Earth as sounding like early Bob Dylan, it is only a reference point for those looking for a quick comparison. Matsson has carved himself a place as one of modern folk music’s most important artists, and his performance at Stubb’s handily proved that he is a live act that is not to be missed. If he keeps releasing quality albums and plays his cards right, not even Norah Jones will be able to stop The Tallest Man on Earth.

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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