For this review, I am going to bypass the seemingly impossible-to-avoid mention of Bob Dylan when talking about Swede Kristian Matsson's artistic vehicle The Tallest Man on Earth, and his new album, The Wild Hunt. ....aw crap.
Kristian Matsson does not sound like Bob Dylan. And I know what you're thinking, "oh but his voice totally sounds like Bob Dylan's lol you must be a complete retard not to hear that!" No, I can hear the resemblance perfectly fine. But what past that makes him specifically Dylan-esque? The spare acoustic arrangements? The poetic, metaphor-ridden story telling? The everyman vocal with its strong focus on emotion? This could apply to a host of early folk singers. For example, if he had more of a dry baritone, would he suddenly be Cohen-esque? Frankly I'm surprised I haven't heard him being compared to Cat Stevens... anyway, sorry for rambling. Let's get down to business!
One of the impressive feats that Wild Hunt accomplishes is just how lush and full it sounds, when really all we're hearing is a guy singing while he plays guitar (or piano, on the closing Kids on the Run). Taking a bit more of a dynamic approach than that on his first album Shallow Graves, both his voice and his playing feel more powerful. It really makes certain moments stand out, like the urgency with which he sings You're Going Back's chorus, or when he shouts, "Here come the tears, but like always I let them go, just let them go" through the second half of Love Is All. This applies to Matsson's guitar as well; the fingerpicking is wonderful, especially alongside moments where he switches it up to robust strumming, as he does all throughout the bluesy gallop of King of Spain.
The Wild Hunt, contrary to what its title may suggest, is largely driven by gentle, gorgeous melodies which have a remarkable warmth to them. Kids on the Run should be a downer, given the ambiguous irresolution in the lyrics and the somber piano, but Matsson's voice carries an inexplicable element of hope in it, much in the same way Bruce Springsteen has done with songs like Atlantic City. On top of some of the very pretty sounds he gets from his guitar (the writing is excellent, but it should be noted that he plays with superb skill as well), this quality in his voice, from his whispers to his roars, keeps just about all of the album from slipping into any real sense of melancholy.
The Wild Hunt presents the dichotomy of sounding intimate and huge; threadbare the production may be, but even at his most subdued Matsson's voice and guitar sound big enough to fill an arena. This album is less direct than its predecessor and somehow feels more personal, an extraordinary feat considering that this is only his second full-length release. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Cat Stevens, Nick Drake, whoever your favorite folk figure is, it doesn't matter; chances are you'll love The Tallest Man on Earth, as he seems poised to join them.