The Tallest Man on Earth - Dark Bird is Home - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Tallest Man on Earth - Dark Bird is Home

by Hayden Harman Rating:6.5 Release Date:2015-05-11

A couple of weeks ago a song by Swedish songwriter Kristian Matsson (aka The Tallest Man on Earth) came up on shuffle on my iPod (yeah, I’m old school). It had been a while since I listened to Mattson’s music, but the song in question, 2008’s '

', reminded me of the elements that had drawn me to his music in the first place: the immediacy of his voice, the beautiful guitar (other times banjo or piano) accompaniment and the lyrics that don’t make any sense but inexplicably evoke powerful emotions and imagery. Listening to that song made me see the error of my ways and I immediately repented of having neglected his music for so long, dug out my vinyl copy of The Wild Hunt and just let it spin.

Fast forward to The Tallest Man’s latest release, Dark Bird is Home, which has been described as a deeply personal and more direct effort. That’s probably true, but most listeners won’t be able to tell due to his usual oblique lyrics and the fairly drastic change in sound he has developed. No longer a lone man and his instrument, Matsson now utilizes some studio wizardry to fill out his sound with the help of a few friends, one of whom is Bon Iver member Mike Noyce. The result is a warm, albeit sugar-coated work that follows the same atmospheric, post-rock conventions of contemporary singer-songwriter albums in the post-Justin Vernon world.

Matsson seems to be closely following the footsteps of his icon Dylan, who famously reached a point where he didn’t want to go it alone anymore so brought in The Hawks (later known as The Band) and a zillion other collaborators over the course of his career. We hear that same spirit of community surge at the end of opening track 'Fields of Our Home', where a mixture of voices and instruments envelopes your headphones. It’s pretty, but the downside is that Matsson’s voice is slightly buried in the mix, and it loses some of the immediacy that made his work on Shallow Grave and The Wild Hunt so memorable.

The communal ecstasy and same production style continue on the Springsteen-tinged 'Darkness of the Dream', which actually sounds like it could be a long-lost anthem from the Boss himself. Elsewhere on the album, I hear traces of Paul Simon ('Little Nowhere Towns') and Tom Petty ('Seventeen' - all as if we needed another reminder of how much Matsson is a student of American pop music). He channels these artists capably, but one can’t help but wonder if, on some of the tracks, he adds anything that hasn’t already been done before.

That’s not to say that there are aren’t great, original songs on the album. 'Slow Dance' is a beautiful song with great sensory lyrics like “You smell like smoke and honey in my arms,” while on 'Sagres' you hear commanding lines such as “It’s just all this fucking doubt", and you can't help but pay attention. 

Lyrically, the songs are darker, but they are constantly juxtapositioned with sweet, sparkling melodies. Most of the songs sound like music that you’ve heard your whole life, to Matsson’s credit as a songwriter. They sound natural, like he dug them up from the earth somewhere and just gave them life by recording them.

I can’t help but think, in the wake of other recent, deeply personal singer-songwriter grand-slams like Carrie & Lowell and last year’s Benjithat Dark Bird is Home is sort of a bunt. It’s still a good album, one that would perfectly soundtrack a summer evening with friends, but it ultimately feels less powerful than even The Tallest Man’s earlier work, as I was reminded when I listened to 'The Gardener'. 

Though I don’t feel like I want to revisit it often, Dark Bird is Home was fun while it lasted. Maybe that was the point after all...

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