The Tallest Man On Earth, or Kristian Matsson as he is called by his mother, is a 27 year old, Swedish singer-songwriter.
I first heard him on Jools Holland a few months ago performing King Of Spain and he had me hooked from the word go. First of all with his urgent and melodic acoustic guitar playing, secondly the air of confidence he exuded whilst performing, and thirdly the quite wonderful song he was playing.
It was the same show in which Liam Gallagher was performing with his new band Beady Eye, and as Jools Holland has occasionally done in recent years, they set up a solo acoustic performer in the middle of the studio surrounded by all the other musicians. Gallagher’s default stage position of standing dead still and staring out menacingly was on full show while Matsson was performing only yards away. What I loved about Matsson was his enthusiasm while performing and intently looking around at everybody in the room, reeling them in while he was singing, and quite brilliantly having a stare-off with Gallagher. As Liam stood there doing what he does, you could almost hear Gallagher saying to himself “Yeah, look away motherfucker, I dare you” but Matsson was having none of it and won convincingly. I thought to myself at the time, anyone who has the balls to stare-out Liam Gallagher whilst singing alone with an acoustic guitar, live on TV, deserves huge respect.
His most recent album The Wild Hunt was purchased based on this one performance and it instantly became one of my favourite albums in recent years. Like many of his fellow countrymen, The Tallest Man On Earth chooses to write and perform his songs in English. The inevitable tag of “The new Dylan” has been attached to him on many occassion due to his uncannily similar singing voice and his acoustic singer/songwriter status. Many other artists have suffered this kiss of death before, but The Tallest Man On Earth is definitely one that has the potential to ride out such expectations such is the strength of his songwriting.
The albums 10 tracks are almost all solo performances by Matsson with nothing but him and his acoustic guitar with the occasional accompaniment of banjo and piano. While on paper this may sound like a recipe for dreariness, I can assure you it is anything but that. Like the aforementioned Dylan, The Tallest Man On Earth crafts songs that engage the listener both lyrically and musically. There is a youthful exuberance to the execution of the songs and his fast tempo acoustic playing is consistently sunny and bright, with a very heavy influence of Paul Simon’s melodious picking style on tracks such as ‘Troubles Will Be Gone’ and ‘A Lions Heart’, making for a rather uplifting tone and feel to the album.
The Swedish have a knack of always suprising me with their creative flair and in depth use of the English language when it comes to songwriting which puts a lot of English and American writers to shame. Matsson is consistent with this theory and the metaphorical use of the language used throughout is probably one of the biggest strengths of the album.
Album highlight ‘Burden Of Tomorrow’ is a classic example of why his lyrics and music have started to become so admired. It conjures a lot of metaphorically religious images, the dawning of mans creation and seemingly throwing riddles at the listener and leaves the lyrics open to interpretation. Either way, no matter how you interpret it, it is an astonishing song both musically and lyrically and is fast becoming one of my all time favourites.
The same goes for the aforementioned King Of Spain that just captivates with its wonderful guitar playing and lyrics that confuse as much as they entertain. The guitar melody remains lodged in your head for days after hearing it and Matsson’s sometimes sinister imagery conjured up with lyrics ”And all the senoritas sighing, Will be the fountain of my lies. But while we’re floating in siestas, You search for bottles and for knives” make it all the more compelling.
‘You’re Going Back’ is another song that just grabs your attention with its uplifting acoustic strumming and simple lyrical affections of a once blossoming friendship that has taken a turn for the worse. The friends no longer share the same mindset, needs or desires and are drifting apart from each other. Matsson’s high vocal delivery is able to put across the frustration and exasperation of the lyrics brilliantly.
Other highlights include the sublime ‘Thousand Ways’ along with the only piano led song, and album closer, ‘Kids On The Run’, probably the darkest song lyrically without revealing too much into what the lyrics imply. “No we have never grown a day from the poison we shared, And we’re walking our crooked backs home, But will we ever confess what we’ve done?, Guess we’re still kids on the run”
Clocking in at just under 35 minutes the album does not outstay its welcome. Matsson delivers 10 songs perfectly constructed and probably recorded live in no more than a couple of takes. For artists such as him this approach is the most pure and natural way of recording, keeping his acoustic troubadour image in tact. There will be people who will not be able to get past the Dylan-isms, and it is probably safe to say that if you dislike Dylans voice, you probably wont get The Tallest Man On Earth either. But in a market that has become over saturated with acoustic singer-songwriters, The Tallest Man On Earth is a shining beacon that delivers both thought provoking lyrics along with some of the most intricate and melodious acoustic guitar playing this side of Paul Simon. An artist to be cherished.