The Tallest Man on Earth : Henry St.

Avatar photo
Tallest Man on Earth Henry St. review

Kristian Matsson, better known under his stage name The Tallest Man On Earth, got his start making unadorned acoustic folk. There’s a zest to his debut self-titled EP and first two records, Shallow Grave and The Wild Hunt, that recalls Bob Dylan’s pre-electric playfulness—particularly in his rough, expressive voice. But the comparisons to Dylan were always reductive: Matsson conjures a world all his own, rich with artful introspection and description steeped in the natural wonders of both America and his native Sweden. 

On Henry St., his sixth LP and first recorded with a band, Matsson allows the arrangements to realize the expressive power his early songs only teased. Pedal steel, synthetic textures and well-placed horns smooth out much of the old sharpness (it’s not until closer “Foothills” that we get something close to the early acoustic-organic feel.) 

According to Matsson, the new approach was a byproduct of emerging from isolation—and realizing how insufficient it really is. Fresh from an extended stay in Sweden during the height of COVID, he tapped a number of high-profile collaborators for the project, including producer Nick Sanborn (of Sylvan Esso) and CJ Camerieri (of Bon Iver) on trumpet and French horn. “They opened everything up, and understood what the songs that I’d written needed: sounds that I couldn’t ever have thought of or created myself,” he said of the recordings. “We recorded so many of the songs live in the studio, playing, having fun.”

The collaborative band sound is fruitful for Matsson. “Slowly Rivers Turn” ambles on an understated AM rock guitar pulse and ends on a gorgeous sax solo from Adam Schatz. And the way the band fills out the empty spaces on “Goodbye” is a pleasure to behold. The title track, placed mid-album like a rest stop, is a less expected standout. In weighing the significance of his artistic path, Matsson finds piercing words to match the song’s spare piano backing: “I feel it all, I just feel it wrong / I’m a little dude in the scape of songs…I just don’t know if I can take it anymore.

If Henry St. indicates anything, it’s that Matsson is an aesthete first. Every song here sounds great, but a few lack flavor: “In Your Garden Still” never quite gets off the ground, and the orchestral drama of “New Religion” feels overcooked. Matsson rarely goes for the emotional jugular the way indie folk contemporaries like Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) do, and his music can come off stately by comparison. But more than any Tallest Man record yet, Henry St. is well-crafted rock suited equally for malaise and contentment.

Label: Anti-

Year: 2023

Similar Albums:

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top