‘Dark Bird’ Flies High

“Dark Bird is Home,” by Tallest Man on Earth

An Album Review by Maddie White

In a recent interview he did with SPIN Magazine, Kristian Matsson, also known by his stage name The Tallest Man on Earth (TMoE), told interviewers, “On some of the songs I had to censor myself because it was too personal. I couldn’t have toured those songs and sang them over and over, it would just not be healthy,” –and understandably so. Dark Bird is Home, his latest album, was born in the wake of a bitingly lonely and trying time in the 32-year-old Scandinavian singer-songwriter’s life. Following his return from tour, he not only discovered the death of a close family member, but also split from his singer-songwriter (and sometimes collaborator) wife, Amanda Bergman. Though staying true to his signature fingerpicking guitar style, bleating vocals, and romantically melancholic imagery and folk sound, this album unfortunately departs from the melodic catchiness of some of his past tracks. However, Matsson’s employment of full orchestral back-up, tape-processed synthesizers, and endearing moments of vulnerability on Dark Bird is Home combine to make it a dazzling reflection of his progress both as an artist and a human being.

I should probably preface the remainder of this essay by mentioning that, a few weeks back, I was fortunate enough to witness TMoE on his current tour, live in living color at the Wiltern Theatre in LA. As this is his first full-band tour, the album I had played repetitively through my speakers in the weeks prior came to life colorfully and dynamically—each song seamlessly complementing the next. With his electrifying stage presence, Matsson was able to make a ginormous duplex theatre feel like a small, intimate room. Fortunately for us, he’s painstakingly aware of his duty as a performer. The restless neck of his guitar led him in circles around the play-space; his bodily contractions-turned-dance-moves, facial expressions, and eye contact with fans exuded a level of charisma magnetic enough to withhold the burgeoning focus of everyone in the room. He loves what he does and we love watching him do it.

The dream-like sythesizers on Dark Bird is Home add an element that is not often explored in Dylan-inspired folk sounds; creating what feels like a sort of modernized-folk genre, catering to the new plugged-in generation of listeners. The opening track, Fields of our Home, relies less on his usual lyrical form of storytelling, and more on the instrumental hooks to evoke feelings of nostalgia and gratitude. Additionally, the use of clarinet, soft piano, and horns throughout the album work not only to create a fuller, more complex sound, but also to establish the multi-instrumental musical chops TMoE possesses. During the show, it was a pleasant surprise to watch him remove the guitar strap from his neck, only to get behind the keys to play and sing the sweet little piano ditty, Little Nowhere Towns.

Though I may not be basking in the blissful simplicity of his usual knee-slapping melodies, like in the trademark sounds from his 2010 album Shallow Grave, I still find myself respecting Dark Bird is Home for its multidimensionality and honesty. Each track feels like it came from a very real, genuine place, like a dark underlying sadness in his soul that desperately needed to be excavated and explored. On Sagres, we get the feeling that he’s finally able to express what he’s been trying to say his whole life, in the simple yet honest statement, “it’s just all this fucking doubt.”

Spoken like a true artist, TMoE.

Listen here:

Here’s a lil BONUS for you… I’ve attached a clip of him performing The Gardener from Shallow Graves, last month at the Wiltern. One of my all-time favorite tracks…

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