Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt

If you've ever spent time around babbling toddlers or non-native English speakers (I'm not equating the two), you probably know that amidst the wall of incoherence and formidable language barriers, they can stumble upon some pretty profound statements. It's as though their thoughts become distilled out of necessity, reduced to clean, simple declarations. Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson who sings under the moniker The Tallest Man On Earth, is a master of these arresting phrases, made all the more affecting when you realize he's not singing in his mother tongue. You get the distinct feeling he learned English from watching Days of Heaven and listening to Woody Guthrie albums, assimilating their imagery and vernacular as his own.

This is not to say that his songs are simple. In fact, quite the contrary. Most are a tender whirlwind of finger-picking and his hoarse yowl that threatens to crack at any moment. While Matsson has often drawn comparisons to early Bob Dylan and certainly sounds (and looks) the part, Dylan was never this brazenly assured, preferring a more coy, passive voice that provoked thought over emotion. The lyrics in The Wild Hunt can be as obtuse as Dylan in parts, but are often flanked by a line like this delivered with gruff sincerity:

Cause I'll always be blamed for the sun going down with us all,
But I'm the light in the middle of every man's fall

Maybe it is the blunt European personality that makes his music so honest and raw. Perhaps if Dylan had transcribed his songs in Spanish, they'd match the emotional heft of The Wild Hunt and Matsson's 2008 debut Shallow Grave. Where Dylan took great pride in his ambiguity, Matsson is disarmingly earnest, sometimes to a fault (see the song where he fantasizes about murdering his love's potential beaus and burying them under the garden). If he can make a triple homicide romantic, he's quite the wordsmith. The most rollicking and accessible track 'King Of Spain', finds him weaving a case of misinterpreted love between stories of bullfights and flamenco, furiously strumming throughout. You can't help but wonder: has he even been to Spain, or did he just watch an Almodovar film? The reality is, when it's this great, it doesn't matter.

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