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The Tallest Man on Earth, Overlooked

| Friday, January 18, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

There’s some irony to the fact that The Tallest Man on Earth went under the radar last year. Kristian Matsson, stage name The Tallest Man on Earth, released six singles over the course of 2018. In September 2018, the folk singer-songwriter compiled five into his EP “When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground.” The reception was mild. The formal EP release was understated and rather redundant — perhaps this was one detriment to the record’s acclaim. Yet, the record’s songs themselves are neither understated nor redundant. Matsson is no stranger to intimate confessions, but “When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground” illustrates his humanity in a vein no record of his ever has.

Aesthetically, the record lands somewhere between the baroque pop of Beirut’s “The Rip Tide” and the ascetic folk of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.” Mattson’s guitar work evokes the style of past albums such as “The Shallow Grave” and “The Wild Hunt,” but his singing does not — the Dylanesque croaks are gone, replaced with more delicate vocals. The change is fitting. Past records’ tracks (“The Gardener,” “The King of Spain”) have gritty alter-ego protagonists. In contrast, songs on “When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground” come straight from personal experience.

Lyrically, the record reads like an impressionist diary. The chronological tracklist traces Mattson’s year in sentiments and reflections, from heartache on “Somewhere in the Mountains, Somewhere in New York” to letting go on “Then I Won’t Sing No More.” Songs share common themes (birds, especially) but do not string together a formal narrative. And like any good diary keeper, Mattson does not return to past entries for revision; once a single is finished, Mattson releases it and moves onto writing the next song.

Accompanying each track on “When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground” is an extended music video from Mattson. Introducing “An Ocean,” a vulnerable self-exploration with fluttering chord progressions, Mattson speaks about his stage shyness and dreams of taking flight. Mattson’s bedroom performance of “Forever Is a Very Long Time,” interspersed with shots of lakes and forests, brings out the natural intimacy of the lines, “What if nature is just numbers/You and I repetition…?” Mattson follows up a performance of “Down in My Heart” with insight into his songwriting process. These video diaries are not a necessary condition to the enjoyment of the record, but Mattson’s reflections are nevertheless an endearing addition.

“When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground” is not the most ambitious record in The Tallest Man on Earth’s discography. It is only five tracks long, after all. Yet, it is no throwaway EP either. The ideas on “When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground” are both thoughtful and artfully put, and Mattson’s unaffected personality shines through the record’s five tracks. For those who missed this record the first time around, “When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground” is worth the listen.


Album: “When The Bird Sees The Solid Ground”

Label: Rivers/Birds Records

Favorite Tracks: “An Ocean,” “Forever Is a Very Long Time”

If you like: Beirut, Blind Pilot, Iron & Wine

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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About Matthew Kellenberg

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