MFNW Preview: The Tallest Man on Earth

A solitary songwriter finally enlists a little help from his friends—and makes his richest album yet.

The beauty of Kristian Matsson's music is that it's never needed polish. The Swedish singer-songwriter has spent the better part of a decade crafting songs under the Tallest Man on Earth moniker with a lone acoustic guitar and a voice whose rawness could be mistaken for Bob Dylan's. The comparison is almost a cliché at this point—and frankly, Matsson has had enough of it—but it remains apt, given the delicate way he pairs opaque lyricism with alternating shades of country and folk.

But while Matsson's music isn't getting any less rough, it is getting bigger.

On Dark Bird Is Home, the fourth and latest Tallest Man on Earth album, the bare-bones balladry and stripped acoustics are nearly nonexistent. Beginning with opening track "Fields of Our Home," the understated guitar-strumming that has essentially defined Matsson's career so far gives way to keyboards, subtle hints of brass and angelic voices that aren't his own. It's his richest album to date, and also his most personal.

"I went through a divorce and I lost a family member who was close to me," the 32-year-old recently told Vice. "The year started off like that, and then the album-making process turned into something that I could use for escape."

That so-called "escape" became more ambitious with company. Matsson picked up a four-piece band to tour behind Dark Bird, including Bon Iver's Mike Noyce and other notable bedfellows who helped shape the album's epic atmosphere. Songs like "Slow Dance" and "Timothy" pirouette on French horns and clarinet, while "Singers" bathes Matsson's intricate fingerpicking and cautious optimism in honeyed flurries of strings.

“And suddenly the day gets you down,” he sings on the title track, before the drums and lush orchestration kick in. “But this is not the end/ No, this is fine.” Perhaps that, given Mattson’s newfound sense of direction, is the most telling of all. 

Three Key Tallest Man On Earth Tracks

"Honey Won't You Let Me In" (from Shallow Grave)

A beautiful, quivering portrait of someone at the end of a relationship, set to fluttering guitar and topped with a traditional touch of banjo.

"Love Is All" (from The Wild Hunt)

Not even Mattson's ace fingerpicking can disguise the bleating pain of this linchpin tune. It's a delicate look at what's continually lost, whether inside or out.

"Sagres" (from Dark Bird Is Home)

An exemplary cut, named after the remote Portuguese village where the narrator finds solace. The lavish production features jostling guitars, violin and mandolin at the forefront.

 The Tallest Man on Earth plays at 7:30 pm on Sunday, Aug. 23.

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