Towering over the rest of us at a height of 8’6”, Leonid Stadnyk is the tallest living man in the world. It is a record that requires little endurance and skill to achieve, mainly relying on good (or bad) fortune. Still though, one has to respect the tolerance of the record’s holders; they commendably dismiss the nuisance of speculative public eyes watching their every move, demonstrating a form of patience and understanding that most people could not even begin to fathom. I doubt that Mr. Stadnyk would take harm to the name selection (as it actually proves rather complementary), but Swedish songwriter Kristian Matsson chose a bold name for his musical project: The Tallest Man On Earth. Considering that Matsson’s height appears to be normal, the name selection more appropriately relates to his intended style. It is often a nuisance whenever a critic calls a new and young artist a “beatnik”, but I suppose that it would be a somewhat suitable classification for Matsson. Despite a fresh and wavering scene that mainly dismisses gritty folk as a component of the past, Matsson has chosen to disregard the skeptics and carry on with a style that suits him the best, similar to the individualistic ideals of his namesake.
If you had read any article concerning Matsson prior to this one, you are probably aware of one comparison that is consistently evident. Dylan-like, Dylan-esque… yeah, you get the drift – Matsson sounds a bit like the folk legend. It seems that the tag has been granted to seemingly every folk songwriter with an acoustic guitar these days, but Matsson actually makes a case for a legit comparison. Playing a varied style of acoustical folk is one thing, but Matsson’s excelled lyrical prowess is where he shines most uniquely. Providing a cohesion of metaphorical imagery and anecdotal musings, Matsson’s emphasis on nature serves as a refreshing change of pace when compared to other, somewhat melodramatic songwriters. Though the transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson provided us with a similarly successful literary device for two centuries, the delivery is exceptionally suited for Matsson’s music. Appropriately enough, the talented Swede sounds nothing like the indie-pop the country has been stereotypically churning out enjoyably in massive numbers (which is why it is called a stereotype). In fact, I would have taken him for an American if I had not known prior of his geographical origins. His style of folk takes plenty of dues from rootsy Americana, with his soulful croon embodying the genuine ardency that western folk music has come to be known for.
Matsson made his debut last year with a 5-song EP. Released on Gravitation Records, it proved promising and brought the Swedish songwriter a variety of online praise. Because of the considerable acclaim it got in indie-folk circles, there was a substantial demand for a full-length shortly afterwards. After nearly a year, the wait is over. Matsson’s debut album, the bleakly titled Shallow Grave, was released on March 5th . Impressively enough, it is an improvement on his EP in its integration of more varied styles into a lyrical delivery that remains just as resoundingly effective. Folk is his primary classification, but Matsson also weaves in elements of finger-picked blues (Piedmont blues) to provide a reminder of artists like Mississippi John Hurt and Curley Weaver. To make the sense of nostalgia even more suitable, Mattson utilizes a form of production that relies on both his raspy vocals and instrumental minimalism. The lo-fi approach is overwhelmingly appealing when applied to Matsson, and it mainly has to due with the fact that his lyrics are constantly invigorating. Considering they play such a large role and are impossible to avoid due to the minimalist style of production, his poetic talent provides a breath of a relief.
The fact that Shallow Grave sounds like it was recorded on a random tape machine is part of its lo-fi charm; it is the same method that made the preceding EP so uniquely enjoyable. I admit that, like Dylan or any artist in a similar vein, not everyone will find themselves growing easily accustomed to Matsson’s vocal style. It has a sense of intimacy to it that usually only songwriters that are old in age and bountiful in experience encompass, being unconventional in the most broadest sense. I personally was enamored with it the first time I heard the opening track on Shallow Grave, the fantastic “I Won’t Be Found”. Rather than simply repeating “carpe diem”, Matsson signifies the importance of treasuring every moment in life, looking upon death as an imminent circumstance that can only be enjoyed if its preceding life was lived to the fullest extent. Over a fastidiously plucked guitar progression, he sings ardently and establishes time as a component that should be treasured. “Well if I ever get to slumber just like I’m old deep in the ground, hell, I won’t be found.”
“Into the Stream” features a more simplistically repetitive progression that is excelled by Matsson’s vocal melody and the slight melodic transitioning that takes place after each verse. This time around, Matsson tackles the obstacles in turning a fantasy into reality. Using natural elements like alternating weather with metaphorical significance, the values of societal perception are also put into question, eventually settling on circumstances that are widely dependent on the individual. The thoughts can generally be pinpointed as examples of transcendentalism, even if Matsson’s skill provides for verbal jousting that is occasionally too vaguely intricate to classify with confidence. If you choose to skip past Matsson’s lyrical talents and go straight toward his instrumental talents, “Pistol Dreams” is a great example of his talents on guitar. As far as recent folk artists go, I have heard very few that compare to Kristian Matsson’s raw skill as a lyricist and songwriter.