Part of the charm that made The Tallest Man on Earth’s Kristian Matsson’s music so special was his peculiar vocal timbre. Whilst resembling Bob Dylan’s crooning slyness, it was Matsson’s skillful guitar and banjo playing that would leave a lasting impression. Whether he was weaving in and out of acoustic lightness that called for placid strumming or lightly flicking away around an intricate melody, there was a tenacious amount of craft swirling around. And for the most part, Shallow Grave surpassed expectations that no one, not even Matsson, could ever have dreamed of.
While there wasn’t ever a feeling of doubt or trepidation, actually, it was an uplifting album that many people fell deeply in love with, including yours truly. So it’s absolutely stirring to hear Matsson thriving with energy on his country-influenced, “King of Spain.” It’s at the end that the goosebumps hit – if they hadn’t already – with his screeching declaration to the land. Seamlessly moving from chord to chord with a changing rhythm or a passing guitar riff, Matsson sings from the bottom of his heart about re-living such dreams.
It’s fittingly ironic that he throw in a lyric like “no, we don’t dream anymore” on “Love is All”’s hushed beauty, only seconds after rollicking on the aforementioned “King of Spain.” Ultimately, The Wild Hunt is anything but a disappointment; instead it’s a smooth progression that departed exactly where he left off: it’s still affecting with countless moments of brilliance, it still showcases a musician that is everything we could want in a songwriter and on a more contextual look, it’s still a man making simply honest music with nothing in the way but his heart and soul.
The emotions seem to be coming to a boiling point on The Wild Hunt with Matsson not only raising the volume on his guitar but bellowing out lines as if he is playing a lonely bar, all by himself. On “You’re Going Back” he’s calling for his dream girl to come back to him and although he still admits that she’s driven him to tears, his guitar is chugging away, optimistically looking on. And for a brief second, he tears away into what seems like a kindred guitar solo before returning with the album’s most memorable line as his woman screams at the driver, “‘Driver, please, don’t go that fucking way.” His enunciation, especially when he reaches the expletive, is astonishing and if you hear it for the first time, loud, on headphones, it’s simply something else.
But it’s those kinds of moments that drive Matsson’s music to another level. Unlike other folk artists that rest their laurels on gimmicky instrumentation or those that hide their poor songwriting with clunky lines, Matsson is a gifted songwriter that always comes prepared. It’s his guitar, his words and his voice that propels the music to heightened realms and for much of the time, you’re left in awe of just how special this music really is.
It made sense for Matsson to gather himself after his exceptional debut and move to a bigger label where he could fully put his tools to good use. But in that same vein, it doesn’t hinder the quality in the least; in reality, Matsson is a superb musician that has mastered the skill of combining poetic words with downright flawless music. It’s enough to make you come up from the dust and into the shining sun, or as Matsson puts it, much better in fact, “Let us float in the tears, let us cry from the laughters.”
“King of Spain” by The Tallest Man on Earth