Standout tracks: “Dark bird is home” “Timothy”
The Tallest Man On Earth—otherwise known as Kristian Matsson—is no stranger to creating deeply personal records in which he reflects on his own experiences, incorporating them into the music he creates. Halfway through his new album, Dark Bird is Home, during the lone piano ballad “Little Nowhere Towns,” he muses, “I must have been pretty gone/ When I went through these towns like a cannonball.” This is an observation that encapsulates the mood of his earlier music: Frantic fingerpicking, wild strumming, and endearingly raspy vocals that evoke images of a freewheeling troubadour zooming through pastoral landscapes and big cities with equal aplomb.
Those qualities don’t disappear completely on Matsson’s latest album. Instead, as the title would seem to affirm, the album is a collection of songs circling the thoughts of a perpetual traveler who’s finally ready to rest. After recently going through the death of a close family member and a divorce, Matsson spends the majority of the album’s 10 tracks reflecting on the pain and mistakes of his past while looking onward to the process of healing and of wanting to be back on the road. Dark Bird also features the most instrumentation of any Tallest Man on Earth release by far. It’s the type of addition that Matsson certainly didn’t need to add to his forceful acoustic guitar-based songs and though it isn’t his best work, it makes for an impressively cohesive listen.
To see the positive effect of a full band on a Tallest Man on Earth track, look no further than “Timothy,” which is built around an orchestral riff and layered on a variety of well-arranged string instruments. It’s the type of song that couldn’t sound nearly as good with just a single guitar. At one point, Matsson even makes a veiled reference to his broadened instrumentation, singing, “It only takes a gravel road/ In Missouri light/ Rolling to the way back when/ Simple was alright.” Unfortunately, the same trick isn’t executed quite as successfully on “Darkness of the Dream,” which doesn’t have nearly enough substance supporting the bland mandolin and overly-emphatic drums to merit its understated production.
One of the best qualities of Dark Bird is that it packs in a lot of variety while managing to remain cohesive. Matsson’s vocals are steady throughout, guiding the listener through a mixture of tempos, volumes, and intricate phrasings. Various musical aspects such as the rich percussion in “Sagres” or the vibrant chorus in the bluegrass-infused “Beginners” stand out, but Matsson saves the best for last. The beautifully crafted title track closes the album and provides poignant personal lyrics sung gently over a guitar that complements the theme perfectly. The last lines we hear him sing are, “But now I need to go/ Oh, fuck.” With any luck, he’ll return again—back from the boundless possibility of the open road, wisened by experience and teeming with new ideas.