The Tallest Man on Earth – “Rivers” (Singles Going Steady)

Straddling the gap between John Denver and Lambchop is “Rivers” from the Tallest Man on Earth.

Dan Kok: Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson made his name with lo-fi recordings of intricately composed acoustic tunes. And while he hasn’t ever deviated too far from those roots, “Rivers” find him adopting a fuller sound accompanied by horns and piano. There are spikes and other hints of the unpolished recordings and Matsson’s dense lyrical imagery has only become more dense since the beginning of his career, but the sound is cozier and easier. It seems that he’s managed to add instrumentation and warmth without sacrificing his unique artistry. [9/10]

Adriane Pontecorvo: Delicate keys, delicate strings, and a voice in constant vibrato make for a standard indie folk sound, and the addition of muted trumpets make this particular track sound a little like a watered-down Beirut. It’s all a little precious, pure sweet sentiment without much bite to it. There’s definitely a place for this song, maybe in some particularly idyllic woodland, and the instrumental skill here is undeniable, but there isn’t a lot of depth. [6/10]

Scott Zuppardo: Straddling the gap between John Denver and Lambchop is “Rivers” from the Tallest Man on Earth. The faint horn section and whistle chorus sucks you in like an extra trip to the soda fountain, the finger picked melodies graced with ghostly piano fills, if there’s a way to put the actual feeling of floating down a river into chords, Sweden’s Kristian Mattson has risen to said task in spades. The song’s semi-jovial appeal is inviting and actually renders you powerless. I was earnest with steadfast disdain but was bowled over by saccharin, sincerity, and transcending song craft. [8/10]

Paul Carr: This is Kristian Matsson at his most wistful as he reflects on the fleeting nature of relationships compared to the permanence of the environment around us. It is a gorgeously contemplative song constructed around warm, finger picked guitar, recalling Nick Drake at his most fluid. Subtle Latin flourishes elevate the song beyond simple introspection, adding radiance to the yearning vocals. It’s as impressive and awe-inspiring as the rivers that inspired it. [8/10]

John Garratt: Folk music used to be a medium for stories. I’d listen to Doc Watson tell me about that “Travelin’ Man” or Leo Kottke mourn a dead prostitute named “Louise”. The sound of the great dust bowl could be heard in Woody Guthrie’s voice. Even his son effectively nailed the turbulent social climate of his time by shouting “Kill! Kill! Kill!” These were stories you could reach out and touch, and the acoustic guitar was an instrument that was never afraid to get its knees dirty. I have no idea what “Rivers” is about and, based on the absolutely toothless performance I am hearing, I’m not inclined to look any further. [3/10]

Andrew Paschal: Kristian Matsson sings reflectively of the impersonal nature of our surroundings, indifferent to our feelings about inevitable change and loss. He sings of half-familiar, half-erased places and feelings, “When the love is gone but the need remains…when the house is gone but the street remains.” Listening to it, I’m reminded of a similarly great lyric from Bright Eyes’ “Lua”: “the reasons all have run away, but the feeling never did.” The Tallest Man on Earth places us here in a moment of acute consciousness of mortality and impermanence, but approaches this topic soberly and without self-pity. [7/10]

Christopher Laird: Almost everything seems to be the same old Tallest Man on Earth here. Almost. The tight, breezy guitar picking is the same. Even the lyrics shoot for the same pastoral abstract imagery as usual with lines like, “I guess these rivers never knew” and “Darling, we’re moving the mountain around.” The difference is the voice. The voice is nearly a whisper. It’s wispy and twisty, and you can tell he’s having fun with it. It’s a nice change. [8/10]

William Sutton: A beautifully simple acoustic track that frames the wonderful tone and lyricism of the Swedish singer, complemented by an understated brass section part way through, and continues to demonstrate the unerring consistency of his work. [7/10]

Chris Ingalls: Kristian Matsson, a.k.a. the Tallest Man on Earth, continues building his reputation as a Swedish Bob Dylan by way of Bon Iver. “River” is a lovely tune that wisely avoids an overly complicated arrangement. When the muted trumpets creep in around the halfway mark, it creates a gorgeous additional element where everything clicks perfectly. Matsson is a singular talent who needs to be heard by everyone. [8/10]

Michael Pementel: Overall this is a very beautiful track with a lovely guitar and some light horns that come in from time to time. Like its title it flows and eases its way into the listener’s ear (instrumentally quite therapeutic). The vocals are a coin toss: You’ll either love them or hate them. There were moments when the pitch went high and I was briefly taken out of the song, but when lower, felt as if the vibe was stronger. [6/10]

SCORE: 7.00