The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

by Al Brown Rating:7 Release Date:2010-04-12

The Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson: Swedish indie-folk heartthrob, obvious Dylan fan, not the actual tallest man on earth. There has probably never been a review of his work that doesn't mention Bob Dylan, and there probably never will be because the similarities are overwhelming. From the husky, straining voice to the scratchy, warm acoustic guitar there is not one facet that doesn't stand up to obvious comparisons. It's probably best to get that out of the way now: this sounds, at least on the surface, like a lost sixties Bob Dylan album.

Of course, what trips up most Dylan wannabes is the fact that he was a masterful lyricist and they are not. Phrasing - the rhythm of the words their interplay with the rhythm of the music - is something that few songwriters, even successful ones, are all that good at. Subtle phrasing can turn a good line great: The languorous way Dylan sings "Ramona/Come closer/Shut softly/Your watery eyes" in 'To Ramona' is one of my favourite song beginnings. And think about the way he crams all those images into the last verse of 'Mr. Tambourine Man': the rhythm of the words is as important as their meaning, and certainly more satisfying on a subconscious level.

Back to The Tallest Man on Earth, anyway, and I'm not going to claim he's Dylan's equal in terms of phrasing, but he does seem to have an instinctive understanding of it. I've found myself having to concentrate hard to actually take in the words because it's much easier to just let them flow prettily over me. And when I do concentrate I come to the conclusion that they are not amazing, only superficially comparable to Dylan: full of nature and heartache. The chorus of the title track for example seems to be written in pidgin English ("I left my heart to the wild hunt a-comin'") and I'm not sure what (if anything) it means. But the way it's delivered: hushed and clipped at first, then joyously expressive ("I plan to be forgotten when I'm gone") with subtle guitar (and, I think, banjolele) gives it a curious emotional impact.

In 'Troubles Will Be Gone' he reels off seemingly evocative lines at a quick pace, but closer examination again reveals odd use of English. He sings something like: "And there's a sign up to a hill to see the far of the land/Well the sign will tell you, 'Turn if there's a one'". Of course, most people are only going to catch, say, half of the words, so the strange use of pronouns becomes less of an issue, but one wonders if he is sacrificing meaning in the quest for satisfying cadence. However there's the possibility these could be deliberate choices, and that I'm patronising him because English is his second language.

There are many things to admire about this record: the production is flawless with Matsson's voice and guitar sounding wonderfully clear but also raw and natural. And there are many little moments that reassure you of his gift for emotive delivery and subtle shifts in tone and volume. The chorus of 'The Wild Hunt' is one; the double-tracked acoustic guitars on 'You're Going Back' sound great; the Devendra Banhart-esque 'The Drying Of The Lawns' is very pretty. It is slightly lacking in hooks: I've been listening to it for the past couple of days and probably couldn't hum a single line from memory, and I do still doubt if any of it means anything. It's probably best to see it as a demonstration of how far you can get just by singing and playing with grace and purpose. Quite a long way, I'd have to say.

Alistair Brown

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