Steamboat Willie Bonnie Prince of all this shit, you’re like the king of a certain genre
But even you must want to quit like if you hear a record by Bob Dylan or Neil Young or whatever
You must start thinkin’ “Yeah, people like me, but I won’t be that good ever”
And I’m sure the thing is probably Dylan himself too stayed up some nights
Wishing he was as good as Ginsberg or Camus
And he was like “Dude, I’m such a faker, I’m just a clown who entertains
and these fools who pay for my crap, they just have pathetic puny brains
and Camus probably wished he was Milton too or whatever, you know what i’m sayin’?!”
Everyone’s got an influence – in fact some rather clever people had the idea of catergorising the lot of them (head over to http://inflooenz.com/ to see what we’re on about), but why is that some people are never allowed to forget about them?
It’s probably us media types fault for laziness and lack of research, but it’s pretty much impossible to read a review of Ryan Adams or Conor Oberst without someone whispering Bob Dylan seductively in your ear, Laura Marling and Cat Power can barely move for the amount of times people mention Joni Mitchell and if you’re playing a guitar while you’re wearing black and being a bit sad then get ready to hear about Joy Division: see Interpol or Editors for evidence of the latter phenomenon.
At some point do we not need to accept that we’re all a result of every record we’ve ever heard, sure Bonnie “Prince” Billy listened to Neil Young, but he probably listened to Nick Cave, Townes Van Zandt and George Jones too, Kurt Cobain mentioned The Vaselines and The Meat Puppets, but it’s hard to imagine he never heard any R.E.M, Dinosaur Jr. or The Beatles along the way, whilst Caitlin Rose is a famous student of country music, but it’s hard to imagine her influences begin and end in Nashville.
The lazy comparison is always the easiest, but, as part of the problem, we hereby swear to look for less obvious influences, to find references that stretch beyond ‘he plays acoustic guitar so he loves Nick Drake’, ‘she seems angry so obviously nicked her ideas from Kathleen Hanna’, and ‘he talked about wanting to slit people’s throats so he’s just a wannabe Nick Cave’…and we’ll never mention Bob Dylan again, just as soon as we’ve finished this article!
Kristian Matsson is just less than five feet seven tall; a fact that pretty much nobody would have ever bothered to look up had he not chosen to record music under the moniker The Tallest Man On Earth, he is in fact nearly three feet shorter than the actual tallest man on earth, Sultan Kösen. Sultan probably doesn’t write such wonderfully articulate folk music as Kristian though, and he certainly hasn’t had the level of commercial success or critical acclaim!
Dark Bird Is Home is the fourth album Kristian has released as The Tallest Man On Earth, having previously been a member of the Montezumas. His last album, 2012’s There’s No Leaving Now was his biggest success so far, breaking into the top 20 in his native Sweden and troubling the top 40 in the US. That his most noteworthy successes should come in these two countries is entirely fitting, because whilst he may be from Dalarna in Sweden, his musical influences are distinctly American. It would be saying nothing new to mention the likeness his music has to the great and good of American folk. He openly admits the influences of Woody Guthrie, and yes, Bob Dylan, even if he tires of comparison with the latter, and certainly on his early records there was an element of the classic folk-singer in his songs that regularly mused on the subject of travelling. Though perhaps unsurprisingly for a man who is still only 32, his influences do stretch beyond the 1960s, recently he has spoke of the importance of Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago, and also Nick Drake, add that to a recording session in Sweden and it is perhaps unsurprising that Dark Bird Is Home is a more wintery, dark affair than some of his previous output.
You need only look at the artwork of the album, featuring a shadow female figure approaching a grey brick building, it looks like the middle ground of Let The Right One In and Brand New’s emo-classic The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Of Me, and whilst, sadly, this isn’t The Tallest Man On Earth’s departure into screamo-horror soundtracking. It is arguably his most Swedish and gloomy record to date, whilst on previous records he was running away, on Dark Bird Is Home, he seems to be coming back to Sweden, and finding it hasn’t changed, but undeniably he has. The combination of returning home, and darkness creeping into your life might not seem obvious, but Dorothy he ain’t, and Dalarna isn’t Kansas!
Throughout the album he floats between two contrasting emotions, the pull of home and the joy of the road, so on Fields Of Our Home he’s wanting to find a “sane time to let them know how walking feels”, while on Slow Dance he’s feeling like “a stranger in this land” before noting, “at times like these even travellers can’t win” possibly the albums key lyrics, because at it’s heart that is what this album is, it’s about the joys of travelling and seeing the world and the pain of being back at home, even though it’s the only place you feel you belong, as he reluctantly notes on Little Nowhere Town, “I’ve clearly grown up here, here I might as well grow down.”
When the albums not dealing with belonging to a place, it’s equally tied up on it’s insecurities about being in love, and tied to another. On the superb title track, we find Kristian at his most romantic, initially promising to, “fall in love but keep on falling, I held you for life” before latterly revoking his promise, noting that, “no this is not the end and no final tears that we’ll leave to show, I thought that this would last for a million years but now I need to go”. it’s heart-wrenching to see the optimism depart him over the space a mere few minutes. Elsewhere, the excellent old-timey US-folk styling of Beginners plays out like a Wes Anderson film, indeed it could almost have been written about Moonrise Kingdom, such is it’s wistfully nostalgic look at a doomed romance. “Somehow we planned a route, then we got all nervous bady, I don’t have a heart like you” he laments then, following some delightful piano embellishments, he notes “I shouldn’t be here but I just wanna be your man” and telling his partner “there will be a moment when I ask you to believe in love.” The guitar work throughout is entirely mesmerising, the production, playing and vocal tones all combining to create something beautifully nostalgic, it’s rich and warm and has the feeling of a sepia tinged sunset. The feeling of doomed romance is omnipresent though, even at it’s most beautiful it feels temporary and fragile, “I could leave you tomorrow but baby letting you go all these songs will be just of sorrow.”
Kristian’s music has always been based around the quality of his guitar work, and whilst that remains superbly crafted throughout, it’s also the most ambitious Tallest Man On Earth record to date. There’s a gentle experimentation throughout, Darkness Of The Dream has mandolins, piano and the rich warm sound of electric guitars, creating a widescreen-Americana sound not unlike the work of The War On Drugs, the accordion on Singers brings to mind King Creosote, whilst the occasional blasts of clarinets as on Timothy and Singers add a lightly jazzy tinge. It’s a musical step into new territory but without forgetting that folk scene that birthed him, or that’s he’s just a stunningly good guitarist, never more impressive than on Dark Bird Is Home, where he borrows a vocal melody straight from the Bonnie “Prince” Billy playbook and runs with it into some truly magical playing.
On the albums lead single, the supremely good Sagres, there’s a breakdown which finds Kristian at his most questioning, noting, “it’s just all this fucking doubt” but listening to Dark Bird Is Home it’s clear he needn’t of worried, there’s no doubt here this album is a wonderful addition to his ever more impressive back catalogue.
Dark Bird Is Home is out May 11th on Dead Oceans. The Tallest Man On Earth plays London’s Koko on June 23rd, before a full UK tour in October.