Jokes about Kristian Matsson’s height are well past their expiry date. Yes, the odd class clown who never grew up may be tempted to make a jab at the Swedish singer-songwriter’s decided lack of stature given that he goes by performing name of The Tallest Man On Earth, but he more than makes up for it with his natural musical talent.
Oft subject to lazy comparisons to Bob Dylan just because of his gravelly voice, a three year period between his last release sees Matsson seeking to distance himself from the folk legend with a fiercely individualistic new record. Entitled Dark Bird Is Home, Matsson’s fourth full-length record is largely concerned with the dissolution of two marriages; the first being Matsson’s recent divorce from his wife, and the second between his voice and his guitar. Normally one for vague lyrics, Matsson explores his personal challenges with a newfound directness. Having plied his trade as a one-man show for three albums, Matsson opted to pick up a slew of instruments during the recording process and will be backed by a full band on upcoming tour. The results, if anything else could be expected from Matsson at this point, are terrific. Certain albums could be found guilty of stewing in misery solely for the sake of it, but Matsson’s albums have never been lacking in intent. Dark Bird is Home shares this characteristic and always seems to be trying to uncover a new leaf and move on with life all while taking one’s losses on the chin.
Album-opener, “Fields of Our Home”, finds Matsson resorting to his usual pastoral references, but the way he cavorts through them has changed. Gone is the almost panicked strumming of days past in favour of a more lackadaisical approach. With his older records so full of youthful urgency, the more considered and decidedly slower sound is a stark departure for Matsson who now seems focused on slowly building up in order to achieve a massive moment of catharsis.
“Little Nowhere Towns” is another standout for how Matsson takes the piano, which has featured prominently in his old songs like “Kids on The Run”, and produces the same nostalgic tone. Joyous at some points, mournful at others, the track serves as a worthy one capable of serving as midpoint in the album and tying things together with aplomb. “Seventeen” is perhaps the best indication of what Matsson is capable of when he combines lush instrumentation, with his voice and guitar. While not the greatest vocalist you’ve ever heard, Matsson’s charm lies in how he inflects his voice with subtle intonations that pull at your heartstrings, which grow more and more vulnerable with each verse.
Dark Bird Is Home serves as an impressive shift in style from the Swedish artist that fans old and new can latch onto for a comforting listen.