Review Summary: The Wild Hunt is an album built on contradictions, and is all the better for it.
I’m not about to say that the comparison isn’t inviting, or even inaccurate, but the off-handedness with which many compare Kristian Matsson to early Bob Dylan is really starting to irk me. Yes, the two are folk mavericks whose material is instrumentally skeletal, and, yes, both have voices that are acidic and abrasive, as well as emotional and humane. Yada yada yada. But while Dylan uses his music as a platform, Matsson’s stuff is much more for himself, being expressive but fragile in how personal these expressions are; almost as if his whole “making music” thing is only therapeutic, and thus only released to the public because it’s just too damn good for it not
to be. To further clarify: Matsson’s music is filled with statements like “I’m the light of the middle of every man’s fall” and “I want to be the King of Spain”, but also “love is fake; so I get hurt”, in almost the next breath. Dylan, as damn good as he is, never got that wide-ranging in his early days; he never went for the heartstrings or tried to emphasize with all those messy emotions of the listener – perhaps only because he didn’t give a sh
it. But Matsson does
, or at least his songs are genuine enough for me to think so, and this is why the Dylan-TMOE comparison is thus rendered moot.
It’s also why, by God, I might even like Matsson more than Dylan. Matsson makes music that is emphatic and nostalgic and expressive, all of these at once, which is something someone like me needs most of the time, something I can feed on. Like, those emotions and sh
it, or just something relatable to get me through the night with having to resort to getting totally fuc
ked. It’s all needed. This makes The Wild Hunt
kind of like a little revelation, then. Armed with nothing more than some sort of hidden, God-given knowledge of how the human mind actually works, and an acoustic guitar (and a piano holy shi
t!), Matsson becomes an actual artist right before our eyes on this, his best album. He trumps his incredible debut in every way without resorting to drastic tactics in order to avoid some sophomore slump, instead subtly perfecting his approach to great effect.
Like its predecessor, The Wild Hunt
is built upon swift, brisk melodies and a mastery of the acoustic guitar; the ability to fingerpick gingerly than strum violently without even a second going past, and without ever seeming flashy. Yet while Shallow Grave
was almost completely a hard-hitting, gut-punching affair, shouting declarations constantly, on The Wild Hunt
Matsson has learned to affect a whisper, or at least be a little softer when the occasion strikes. Sure, on a song like “Troubles Will Be Gone”, Matsson still gets all soulful and expressive, turning that shi
t up to 11 and maximizing the capabilities of his angelic vocals. But check out that subdued acoustic performance; check out how Matsson relies almost only on lighter tones and almost never on chords, how he lets the fragility of his vocals show through his playing. The hopeful lyrics confirm it: Matsson has learned to convey a breezy lightness that wasn’t quite present on Shallow Grave
, an album that could’ve used the reprieves that are numerously provided here, with “The Drying of the Lawns” and “Thousand Ways” following narrowly in the footsteps of “Troubles Will Be Gone”. This lighter touch makes these songs initially seem unwieldy; someone used to the directness of Shallow Grave
might find these initially unremarkable. But the moment when something as subdued as “The Wild Hunt” finally shows its true brilliance (mind you, it shouldn’t really take that long) makes the wait all the better.
Yet there’s songs like “King of Spain” on The Wild Hunt
, which is much more of the wild affair suggested by the album’s title. Matsson’s tale of chasing tail in a country far south of his own is sprightly and humorous, and Matsson’s voice simply roars when he reaches the song’s most exciting moments, being its chorus. It’s his best and most wide-reaching song, as well as being fuck
. It, and “You’re Going Back” and “A Lion’s Heart”, are affirmations that Matsson’s still your go-to guy for guiding lost souls (including your own) through some truly heavy stuff, without leaving any mess behind. These songs are concise and exacting, and the balance they create with songs like “Love is All” (which is ingeniously placed right after “King of Spain”) is what makes The Wild Hunt
such an improvement on its predecessor. Not everything’s loaded with aggression or melancholy here; there’s balance and order. If Shallow Grave
was an album that said “I Will Not Be Found”, than The Wild Hunt
’s one that says “Trouble Will Be Gone” – accepting, rather than rejecting. Its impact resonates far further.
And “Kids on the Run” is this resonation. His first piano ballad, Matsson gives more than his all on this apt closer, a nostalgic, yet somewhat worrisome (“Will we ever confess for what we done?”, it asks, before dismissing the question with an uncertain “I guess we’re just kids on the run”) song that thoroughly sums up The Wild Hunt
, a rollercoaster of expression and not-expressing and soft and loud and singing and bellowing manically – its all recapitulated with a song that’s so uncertain it’s off-putting. Yet I can’t imagine a better way for The Wild Hunt
to end. As an album that seemingly understands so much about the human condition, what better way to close than to simply speak the truth – who knows what the fuc
k the future stores, for me or you or The Tallest Man on Earth or anyone else? And who cares? In the song, Matsson, as the narrator, doesn’t as long as he has his unnamed female counterpoint. I’m not about to say an album can replace something like that, but damn – all hyperbole aside, The Wild Hunt
’s pretty close.