I built a freeway through this farce

Since the local radio stations are an amalgamation of typical loathsome country music sprinkled with god forsaken Top 40 pop music, Lana and I decided to get Sirius satellite radio for her car.  I have my trusty iPod which keeps me entertained on my journeys to and from.  The lure of commercial free radio was enticing enough, but add on upgrades such as stations that feature only underground, indie, and punk music, and I am sold.  Anyhow, the DJs on Sirius XMU, formerly known as Left of Center Radio, are all really good.  Jenny Eliscu, Christopher The Minister, Jared Fogelnest, and of course the musical encyclopedia Matt Pinnfield are some of my favorites.  It isn’t so much that they are all that entertaining or anything, but they seem to have a lot of insightful things to say about different lesser known artists and they play damn good music.

So one morning I was on my way home from working the night shift and Jared Fogelnest played a song by some Swedish act that I had never heard before.  The name of the artist was The Tallest Man on Earth.  The name is a moniker for Swedish born Kristian Matsson.  As soon as I heard the song I was hooked.  I immediately began a quest to find his CD “Shallow Grave.”  And a quest it was.   Lana finally found it on the Internet and ordered for me for my birthday.  Well, in my search I came across the following review, and all I can say is I wish I had written this review.  The review is one of the best I have ever seen and I couldn’t agree more.  So take some time and read it and then go and order the CD!

Over the last half-century, the tag “Dylanesque” has been slapped on so many mediocre folksingers clutching battered Moleskines that it’s become a meaningless joke, a critical hiccup, a silly, lazy way of invoking an age-old raspy voice/acoustic guitar combo. It’s gotten so bad that, in 2008, yammering on about the cliché of dubbing someone “the next Dylan” has become a cliché in itself. Still: It’s exceptionally hard to talk about Scandinavian folksinger the Tallest Man on Earth (also known as Kristian Matsson) without mentioning Bob Dylan’s early years, mostly because Matsson manages to embody Dylan’s effortlessness so well (Dylan was trying really, really hard, sure– but he sang like he didn’t give a shit), infusing his songs with a detachment that, miraculously, is neither cold nor alienating. Like Dylan, Matsson is so natural a songwriter that these tracks feel predetermined, tumbling out of his mouth with an ease and grace that’s increasingly uncommon.

Matsson released a self-titled five-song EP in 2007; Shallow Grave is his full-length debut. The production is appropriately scrappy, and it seems relatively safe to assume that the album was recorded live with one microphone– accordingly, we hear the scratch of fingernails on string (and, on occasion, the chirping of birds in the background), made privy to each tiny exhalation and sigh. Matsson is an adept fingerpicker, and his guitar is easily as central as his voice, which is high, crackling, and rich. Much like Dylan himself, Matsson has mined the American south for inspiration, and his frantic strumming and front-porch poetry recall everyone from the Carter Family to Lead Belly to, most noticeably, country bluesman Mississippi John Hurt.

“The Blizzard’s Never Seen the Desert Sands” sees Matsson caw little poems (“And the bells up in the tower they will ring/ And the frightened little choirs they will sing/ They will tremble, all their voices”) over plucked banjo; “The Gardener” features a robustly strummed guitar melody and more half-cogent ideas (“I know the runner’s gonna tell you/ There ain’t no cowboy in my hair/ So now he’s buried by the daisies/ So I can stay the tallest man in your eyes, babe”). Matsson’s lyrics don’t stand up as well on paper as they do in song (some have all the logic of fairy tales), but each of these cuts has a distinct, if muddled, narrative– sparrows, tranquilizer guns, curtains, unicorns. Road stories, love stories, prayers.

Matsson’s melodies are remarkably pliant, and while it’s understandable to be skeptical of another skinny dude with a mustache, a guitar, and a worn-out copy of The Anthology of American Folk Music, the more time you invest in Shallow Grave, the more you’ll realize how unusually memorable it is. Ultimately, Shallow Grave transcends comparison– which is saying an awful lot, given the popularity of its prototype– and Matsson is a natural-born folksinger, earnest, clever, and comforting.

— Amanda Petrusich, May 6, 2008

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3 Responses to “I built a freeway through this farce”

  1. so kings of leon is about to start another Us tour. unfortunately, no texas dates. BOO!

  2. Have you ever seen them live? What a great show! I hope they change their mind and come this way.

  3. This was a really interesting review. I can’t agree more with it. His music is brilliant. Check out his band from 06: Montezumas, if you haven’t already. It’s not as folk-like, but his voice still comes through.

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