The Tallest Man on Earth
Shallow Grave


4.5
superb

Review

by Channing Freeman STAFF
October 15th, 2008 | 245 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Damned be this wind, it's still movin' on in to the bones in the bed of my soul.

Whenever a folk artist reaches a certain level of success or releases an impressive album, comparisons with Bob Dylan seem to be inevitable. We saw it a few years back with Conor Oberst, and years before that with Elliott Smith. Currently, the artist that garners the most Dylan comparisons is Swedish folkie Kristian Matsson, whose stage name is The Tallest Man On Earth. With Smith and Oberst, the nods to Dylan were based primarily on their genre and songwriting/lyrical techniques. Matsson's similarities are more aesthetic, as the aspect of his music that gets the most attention is his voice, which is similar to Dylan's. However, Matsson has shown himself to be a far more accomplished musician than Dylan was at his age.

Dylan never was too skilled of a guitar player or singer; his greatest strength was in his words. Matsson, while his voice is similar to Dylan's in tone, has a certain way of delivering his lyrics that seems to give them more power and meaning, whereas Dylan's words were powerful even with his monotone delivery. I said all that to say this: Matsson appears to throw himself into his music; the energy on Shallow Grave, even on the mellower songs, is something to behold, and to see such a new artist already reaching such impressive levels of songwriting is great. Matsson's lyrics are earthy poems of simpler times; it's not hard to imagine Matsson down at the trainyard singing for coins in a hat, or in the 1960s-era Greenwich Village cafes. His raspy voice is hard to pin down to any single description; a word like "nasal" doesn't work because it has a negative connotation and a term like "higher pitched" doesn't work either because it's honestly hard to tell whether his voice is high pitched or low pitched. The best comparison that could be made is, of course, to Bob Dylan, but not the young Dylan that Matsson so often gets compared to. His voice is similar to Desire/Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan, with his voice at times embodying the raspy quality of the former and the sincere vibrato-tinged quality of the latter. His vocals are loud yet not without a personal and intimate quality, and the earnestness in his voice makes it hard to not be affected in some way by his performances, especially when he sings lines like "I've set my house on fire 'cuz I don't need it anymore," and "I won't be lying when I tell you that I'm a gardener, I'm a man in your eyes, babe."

Matsson's guitar playing is awe-inspiring. While none of the songs on Shallow Grave would be particularly hard for any reasonably talented guitar player to replicate, his ability to complement his words with his guitar is amazing. The storytelling ability he shows is perhaps the album's greatest strength. "The Gardener," which in my opinion is the best song of 2008, is Matsson's most energetic musical performance - it wouldn't be surprising if he breaks a few strings every now and then while performing the last thirty seconds. His chordal work in the song is great, as he plays around with the higher strings while keeping the root notes the same. The fingerpicking in "The Sparrow and the Medicine" sees Matsson at his most skillful and creative, and "This Wind" shows Matsson's penchant for the strategic placing of minor chords within songs that are otherwise cheerful. The penultimate chorus lyric is sang twice, the first time with an uncertain minor chord and the second time with a triumphant major chord, an example of two completely different moods within a few seconds of each other. Matsson's guitar playing combined with his vocal delivery make him one of music's best bards.

The only thing that could be considered a negative is the production; sometimes Matsson's vocals can seem grating because they're too loud in the mix, primarily on "Pistol Dreams," which is otherwise one of the album's best tracks. However, the album is basically just Matsson and his guitar and for the most part the production is perfect, with its crackles and static adding to the album's rustic feel. Shallow Grave is certainly one of the most intimate listens of 2008, and it's great to see positive reviews for this album on sites like Pitchfork. Matsson has proven himself to be an immensely talented artist and hopefully he can keep showing this sort of quality on later albums. Shallow Grave has a wide appeal, and it's almost impossible not to fall in love with at least one of the album's songs. To take a page out of Matsson's earthy similes, The Tallest Man On Earth is like the morning sun in the forest - a myriad of moods and colors, and a shaft of light through the leaves.



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user ratings (673)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
Fossegrim (4)
A consistent effort featuring: prime song-writing, creative finesse, and a consistent pace....


Comments:Add a Comment 
mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 15th 2008


17946 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

been wanting to write this for awhile. the tracklist was completely wrong and the album title was off too so i fixed those.

JumpTheF**kUp
October 15th 2008


2717 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

good review, really good album

Kiran
Emeritus
October 15th 2008


6002 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

finally someone reviewed this. this is awesome. listened to it just because he was swedish and i'm patriotic and ended up loving it.

Digging: D'Angelo - Black Messiah

Fire Away
October 15th 2008


293 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

saw this guy the other day, great album great review

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 15th 2008


17946 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

why am i the only 4.5 rating :/

i've listened to this album like 50 times and it hasn't gotten old

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
October 15th 2008


20859 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Terrific review Chan. Nothing more to add really... Other than; Have a pos.

Bleak123
October 15th 2008


1902 Comments


I really need to hear this, great review chan.

joshuatree
Emeritus
October 15th 2008


3742 Comments


meh, haven't checked this out yet

chan4staff

lunchforthesky
October 15th 2008


1039 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The person who gets the most Dylan comparisons is Conor Oberst, whether they are merited or not.



El_Goodo
October 15th 2008


1008 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

whereas Dylan's words were powerful even with his monotone delivery.


I'd have to disagree completely hear. I think a big part of Dylan's music was the way he delivered lyrics he sang like he was talking (I don't mean talking blues) I mean the way he would emphasize words in the line or stress something or at sarcasm to the way he said something.

Monotone is the complete opposite of how I'd describe Dylan's singing.

As for the review I've never heard any of his music but I'm listening to It Will Follow The Rain and it's alright. I don't like the old time recording style. But listening to his live version of Moonshiner he sounds very cool, and he will no doubt continue to get Dylan comparisons because of his voice.

joshuatree
Emeritus
October 15th 2008


3742 Comments


rolling stoneThis Message Edited On 10.15.08

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 15th 2008


17946 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The person who gets the most Dylan comparisons is Conor Oberst, whether they are merited or not.



yes thank you. i mean RIGHT NOW.

Bsmith7
October 15th 2008


252 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I really need to get this.

plane
Staff Reviewer
October 15th 2008


6100 Comments


i remember when everyone was like this isn't that good 3/5 and then i was like fuck you this is awesome 4/5 and then i was like chan listen to this and you were like this is going to be gay 4.5/5

good work on the review, now i don't have to do it like i've been trying for four months D;

plane
Staff Reviewer
October 15th 2008


6100 Comments


"pistol dreams" is awesome, the mix makes it feel more intimate i think. i realize why you said "grating" but it puts a negative connotation on one of the best songs. i do however agree that "the gardener" is one of the best songs of 2008 though.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
October 15th 2008


17946 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

eh, i didn't mean for it to be against the song itself, just the way the production puts his voice out there so prominently when it's at its scratchiest. i'll see if i can reword it

also i agree that this was a hard review to write, first for me in awhile.

Bleak123
October 15th 2008


1902 Comments


right, so after reading this review just this morning i proceeded instantly to download this album (bad i know), and have since listened to it near enough all day. And it rules, maybe a 4.5 is a bit of a rash decision after just 8 listens but come on, this rules. i love this crazy swedish bastard after just one day. so tomorrow i'm totally going out to buy this album.
thanks to you chan i guess.

handoman
October 15th 2008


2386 Comments


chan4president

taylormemer
October 15th 2008


4953 Comments


If he does become president, I hope he isolates the US economy from the rest of the world.

iarescientists
October 15th 2008


5863 Comments


i have to piss rly bad



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