The Tallest Man on Earth sees things afresh

New York-based Kristian Matsson possesses a voice best described as “Bob Dylan-esque”.
New York-based Kristian Matsson possesses a voice best described as “Bob Dylan-esque”. PHOTOS: RIVERS/BIRDS

Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson faces his existential crisis in the album I Love You. It's A Fever Dream.

Kristian Matsson, the New York-based Swedish songsmith who goes by the moniker The Tallest Man on Earth, possesses a voice best described as "Bob Dylan-esque".

It does not put you at ease; it's reedy, quite nasal and, at crucial moments, it actually whines.

The singing style - also shared by Englishman David Gray and the former frontman for American indie rock band The Walkmen, Hamilton Leithauser - is partial towards gnarled, grizzled notes dunk in moonshine and tanned in midday sun.

On his fifth solo album, I Love You. It's A Fever Dream., that voice elicits bittersweet emotions on a record which reminds all that in an age characterised by ideological warfare, it is important to value and embrace your loved ones.

Coming four years after his 2015 post-divorce album Dark Bird Is Home, I Love You is a record in perpetual motion, chronicling a peripatetic artist in an existential bind and calibrating life's coordinates.

It's a process in relearning, where winds of change mean one must lay down arms in order to see things afresh.

  • INDIE FOLK

    I LOVE YOU. IT'S A FEVER DREAM.

    The Tallest Man on Earth

    Rivers/Birds

    4 stars

Look around and value what you have, appears to be the axiom.

What I've Been Kicking Around is a banjo zinger whose melodic breeziness belies its weighty subtext: "Time had never been so bold/ I cut my losses, leave the ground/ Feel a hum in every wheel I turn/ And the breath of getting out."

Yes, there is the heave of relief, but it's less perky, more melancholy.

I Am A Stranger Now captures the wanderer adrift in the churn of touring. "From ocean to the valley to the skin/I mumble to myself and miss your call," he wheezes through, strumming his guitar, while admitting: "Look nervously at things that come apart/If only this one held the answer/To the aching of my heart."

Such is the veneer of normalcy, the gap between routine occupation and inner turmoil.

So much so that in the following song, Waiting For My Ghost, the self-reflexivity takes on an out-of-body dimension.

Against the mournful strains of a harmonica, he confesses: "But then just stand right there and look at me/When I don't know where to begin/Waiting for my ghost to return."

The most moving songs on the record are when he comes to terms with his own unlovely foibles and ultimately spots salvation in the blessing of elemental gifts.

In I'll Be A Sky accompanied by his guitar played in the softest, gentlest keys, he holds out for a connection: "I travelled the fever road/I travelled clouds of my mistakes/And sure, I can drift away/But I'll be just around from the corner from your love."

The discreet banjo also shadows another humdinger My Dear, when he feels each and every sensory experience, from the "cold water" on his body to the "sparkle in the dust" he breathes in.

It's these quotidian miracles, delivered without fanfare, which catch you off-guard.

"As I lean in the morning light/It's like my body's in some other town," he sings, before adding that wonderful, unexpected kicker: "And then you walk on by."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2019, with the headline 'The Tallest Man on Earth sees things afresh'. Print Edition | Subscribe