The Tallest Man on Earth, or Kristian Matsson as he’s known to his mother, came to a lot of people’s attention in 2008 with the release of his debut album, Shallow Grave. Favourable reviews followed as well as high profile tours with the likes of John Vanderslice and Bon Iver. The album was one for purists consisting pretty much entirely of a rapidly picked guitar and lone voice that sounded like they could have been recorded anytime in the last seventy-odd years.
From the off there is little change in the modus operandi from Shallow Grave, the songs remain simply vocals and guitars for 95 percent of the album. The guitar sounds remain dirty, always breaking up like they’re coming from some wax cylinder. Matsson may be Swedish but he can pull off a backwater American accent no problem, hollering and crooning his way through each track. On Shallow Grave, Matsson’s vocals earned him endless Dylan comparisons, though rarely was that taken as a disadvantage given the strength of the songs in question which seemed to roll off his tongue, born and captured there and then. His voice is more controlled here though and this may be the album’s main failing, things appear a little more contrived, the melodies a little less easy. They’re more obvious for sure, but not as relaxed. The main hook in ‘A Lion’s Heart’ for instance seems to follow the same melody as Dylan’s ‘I Want You’ note for note in places.
It would generally be unfair to compare Matsson too closely with Dylan as it would seem he is more influenced by the same things as the great man himself. Its the likes of Missisippi John Hurt, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie that Matsson seems to be channelling more than anyone else. It says something for the man’s natural talent as a songwriter that he can stand out in a field like this, and part of this comes from the purity of his intent, never imitation but inspiration. Its also telling that Matsson is at his weakest when trying to break from this, forcing hooks and catchy melodies where there is no need for them, such as on ‘You’re Going Back’ or ‘Love is All’.
At his strongest though, Matsson’s voice is a wonder to behold. Letting loose on ‘King Of Spain’, we’re shown the sheer power of those vocal chords. It also proves that he is at his best when at his roughest, all attempts to clean up his act merely getting in the way of the force of his real talents.
The Wild Hunt is unlikely to win The Tallest Man on Earth many new fans, but it will satisfy most of those who were singing along to Shallow Grave. After two albums of guitar (with a little banjo thrown in for good measure) you’d have to wonder how much further a road this bare can be followed which makes the final turn of ‘Kid’s on the Run’ as welcome as it is different, played out entirely on piano. While the song itself is not up to the high standards Matsson has set himself, it does at least leave the future open for new horizons.