Dead Bird Is Gone, The Tallest Man on Earth
The Tallest Man On Earth returns May 12 with a new album, Dark Bird Is Home, from Dead Oceans records. Singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson has always paid homage to his Swedish roots in his three lovingly lo-fi folk records to date, preferring to record his unconventional guitar-picking in-house with minimal productive effects in an attempt to take down the barriers between the listener and the singer. In his music videos, he strums at his trusty guitar while perched on mountaintops, dressed in flannel shirts and a corresponding woodsy beard.
Dead Oceans touts Dark Bird Is Home as The Tallest Man On Earth’s most personal release yet. This bodes well for fans of Matsson’s intimate, Americana-inspired music, rooted in simple song structure and a distinctively hoarse, Dylan-esque voice. In Dark Bird Is Home, the barebones approach of earlier favorites like “The Gardener,” “The Blizzard’s Never Seen The Desert Sands” or “1904” is replaced by a more varied musical style. The strength of the melodies is still there, but here it is backed by lush compositions, synchronized voices and instrumental harmonies. In songs like “Slow Dance” he even includes pianos, drums and synthesizers to lend a helping hand to his ever-reliable voice and guitar.
As in earlier albums, Matsson’s confident vocals and strong narrative lead the way. But Dark Bird Is Home lacks some of the whimsicality and fairy-tale imagery of Shallow Grave (2008) and The Wild Hunt (2010). In previous albums Matsson often writes a strange and unreliable narrator: in “The Gardener” on Shallow Grave, he is driven to murder by love; in “Little Brother,” from There’s No Leaving Now (2012), he is the lost and misguided younger brother to whom he sings. The lyrics of Dark Bird is Home, while they have lost some of their eccentricity, seem more personal and intimate, grounded in imagery of dusty travelers and small towns. The album is unified by a consistent voice throughout, singing from the heart and from his experiences on “this wild and wonderful trail.”
Loneliness, missing love and fear of the unknown are recurrent themes, but they are tempered by a resilient optimism, bolstered by intricate guitar. This optimistic tone intermingles with the melancholy and nostalgia that pervades songs like title track “Dark Bird Is Home.” He raises his voice an extra octave and sings phrases like, “No this is not the end and no final tears / That we need to show / I thought that this would last for a million years / But now I need to go.” Matsson sings as an acceptance of the impending death of a relationship, as a way of releasing any lingering regret. He says they have accomplished all that they set out to do and that he, too, must submit to the inexorable progression of time. The emotional power of this message builds gradually with the rising crescendo of Matsson’s voice. It is an apt conclusion to an album full of the sort of wistful beauty that emerges from lost love, long wanderings and the familiar landscape of home.