On Repeat: The Tallest Man on Earth

My favorite album of 2008 might also be the simplest album of 2008– just a guy, a guitar, and some lo-fi tape hiss. It’s the most familiar and tiresome prototype in all of rock; as a professor of mine once told me, the only thing worse than an overly-earnest poet is an overly-earnest folk singer. But Kristian Matsson– a normal-sized guy with giant-sized talent who performs as The Tallest Man on Earth– is not just another earnest folk singer. He’s funny and romantic and honest and surreal and totally in love with words. Beautiful words. Fairy tale narratives, biblical allusions, absurdist imagery that Dylan would have killed for in the late 60s. His album, Shallow Grave, is full of ’em. Matsson spits his words quicker than he strums his beat-up acoustic guitar, and as knockout song piles on top of knockout song, his album quickly reveals itself to be a ragged, mysterious masterpiece in miniature– a small treasure of an album that’s richer and fuller and more compelling than dozens upon dozens of albums with twenty times as many instruments and musicians on board.

In fact, this is music so rich and full of mystery and contradiction, of spirituality and messy humanity, that there’s only one label that really applies– this is Americana, pure and simple, the way it was meant to be played. Funny thing is, The Tallest Man on Earth happens to be a Swedish guy. Oh well. He gets what this kind of music is about better than anyone else in recent memory, and right now he’s the guy responsible for the most addictive and enthralling record of the year. Unfortunately, it’s only available in Europe right now, though he’s playing some shows and working out a U.S. distribution deal early next month. Hopefully that means the album will hit shelves on this side of the Atlantic as early as this summer. It’s worth waiting for. Than again, for music this special, it seems a shame to have to wait. For a few extra dollars, you can import it from Sweden. For this listener, it’s well worth the trouble.

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