Dark Bird Is Home, the new LP from Swedish troubadour The Tallest Man On Earth (real name: Kristian Matsson) marks a development in the musician’s sound. Although the record does contain a number of tracks that fans will be able to identify as obviously Matsson-esque, there are more risks taken on Dark Bird Is Home than on any other of The Tallest Man’s prior releases. This selfsame risk-taking is the force that drives the record’s greatest successes, but a few of its most flawed missteps too.
The most obvious example of a song that doesn’t quite work is Darkness of The Dream, the ‘biggest’ track Matsson has yet recorded. For the song, Matsson trades in his intimate, direct musical style for a slice of lush folk rock. You can’t begrudge the man for trying something new, and the track is nothing if not enjoyable, but it owes too big of a debt to a number of other artists, most notably The Boss himself. It leaves one yearning for intimacy and simplicity, and the same goes for Sagres, a song that certainly gets the toes tapping, but doesn’t leave a great deal in its wake.
But it would be wrong to imply that the development of Matsson’s sound is a totally misguided artistic choice. On a number of the tracks Matsson manages to put a new spin on The Tallest Man On Earth formula; the exceptional Slow Dance is at once heartfelt, emotive, and full. It’s layered, but it never loses sight of its intended audience. The same goes for the bittersweet Timothy, a track that marries powerful instrumentation and Matsson’s endlessly moving vocals.
Matsson recorded the album whilst travelling, and that same wide-eyed wanderlust gives an added weight to a number of the tracks. The exemplary Beginners is a perfect road trip song, dripping as it does with a quiet, slow-burning hope. The same goes for Seventeen, a rollicking, fully realized number.
Album closer Dark Bird is Home is another deeply felt tune that begins restrained, but builds up to an incredible point of emotional catharsis. In short, it’s a winding road that begins where The Tallest Man musically once was, but concludes distinctly where he is now.
Despite its flaws then, Dark Bird is Home is a powerful work. It’s clearly a landmark piece in Matsson’s career, and one that leaves me ultimately hopeful for what he will do next.