The Tallest Man on Earth is a unique musician working in worryingly derivative times. For those still unawares, he’s actually a Swedish singer-songwriter named Kristian Matsson: accruing a growing fanbase, the Swede produces an inimitable sound, blending blues, country and folk through his incredible guitar-playing and vocals that remind many of a young Bob Dylan. As his popularity has steadily increased, and has toured with Bon Iver amongst others.
He’s also something of a favourite of this here blog, so it should come as no surprise that when your author heard of his new EP, the rather lengthily-titled Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird, I leapt at the chance to have a listen.
This is TTMoE’s fourth studio release, a follow-up to his second full-length album The Wild Hunt, released earlier this year, and although Matsson has come far since his 2006 self-titled EP, many of the recognisable traits of that first release are still very audible indeed. The delicacy of his finger-picked guitar riffs is matched with that unique and powerful voice, and mixed together with philosophical, fantastical lyrics (made even more impressive by the fact that Matsson is not a native English speaker) which make for an original, singular sound lightyears from the tepid singer-songwriter fare of the last five years.
Fittingly for a man so beyond the mainstream, then, that the first track on the EP should be called ‘Little River’. It’s a melodic number which bears the hallmarks of Matsson’s past work, his lyrics’ scope effortlessly encompassing nature, fate, mystery and beauty while his rhythmic guitar riff opens doors for his glorious lyricism to walk through:
“Well there is something ’bout the quiet, uplifting laughter/You’ve just spent so many years chased by a cloud, oh/It’s taken you so far, far past the cliff’s edge/And now your feet just poke around to feel the ground, oh”.
Now, it’s all very well simply recreating the sounds of former releases, especially for those of us who have so enjoyed Matsson’s previous work, but in order for an EP this short (it’s just five tracks long) to have an effect, it must also progress the ideas and sound of its composer. As evidenced by the lyrics above, Matsson’s ability to convey emotions through oddly apt metaphor and analogy is still extremely impressive, and calls to mind some of his best songs.
However, what Sometimes The Blues… also does is to nurture Matsson’s more contemplative side. Previously when attempting to compose tracks a little slower than his often-rapid best numbers, there is a small-but-noticeable dip, but here three such songs are handled with impressive skill and ingenuity.
‘The Dreamer’, ‘Like The Wheel’ and ‘Thrown Right At Me’ are all brilliantly crafted, the former featuring not only the EP’s title but also the best lyrics of the record, devastatingly simple yet poignant: “Sometimes the blues just a passing bird/Why can’t that always be?” It also uses an electric guitar as Matsson’s backing where usually an acoustic would feature, and shows that although clearly happy with his current sound (and why shouldn’t he be), the engimatic Swede is not afraid to push on with different ones. All three of these tracks are welcome additions to TTMoE’s already impressive back catalogue, and although Matsson is still very comfortable in his toe-tapping folk guise (‘Tangled In This Trampled Wheat’), his nascent ability to compose more thoughtful, spacious songs is admirable and extremely enjoyable.
Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird is another impressive release from one of music’s most interesting and innovative folk minds, both enhancing the sound which has drawn in Matsson’s current following and adding new avenues of melodic exploration to his already extensive musical roadmap. Excellent stuff.
Best tracks: All five are excellent, my personal highlight is ‘The Dreamer’, but all are well worth a listen.
If you like this, you’ll also like: The Times They Are A’Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan, That Sea, The Gambler – Gregory Alan Isakov, all we grow – s.carey.
Extra treat: here’s a video of Matsson playing ‘The Gardner’ from his first album Shallow Grave in a crazy music shop in New York City a couple of years ago. Enjoy: