Review Summary: This is what music is all about.
Escapism is such a commonly utilized concept that it's been ingrained in our brains for years; we all want to visit a world apart from ordinary everyday life at least once. It's healthy to dream and reach for something greater than the normal, something a bit more far-fetched but still grounded in SOME normalcy. It's rare, however, that an album actually makes people feel like they're really in tune with their surroundings or themselves because of an album. An album like that is able to achieve the near-impossible: to create escapism out of what's physically around the person. The Tallest Man on Earth has been able to do just that with his second studio effort, The Wild Hunt.
Kristian Matsson has had quite a swift rise in popularity in the folk world ever since he made his strong debut record The Shallow Grave. Many reporters were quick to bring up similarities between him and folk legends such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. On one hand, this seems pretty apt; Matsson's more earthy brand of folk seems to channel Bob Dylan's more "acoustic" days before his electric guitar playing became more prominent, as well as much of Guthrie's work. There is a very distinct difference between Matsson and these legends, however. While Dylan and Guthrie are certainly classic artists and two of the most revered musicians to this day, much of their work seemed to be a product of the times. All of the politically charged lyricism let the listener know that they were reflecting upon what was going on in the world at the time. With The Tallest Man on Earth, everything feels more timeless; there's no political stuff, no pandering to certain morals, etc. All Matsson wanted to do was make great folk music, and he's done just that. While The Shallow Grave is a great record, The Wild Hunt takes things to a whole new level; hell, it's an entirely different ballgame altogether... and it's completely perfect.
At only ten songs and 35 minutes long, this is quite a concise affair. With how strong the compositions are, that's a good aspect of the record; there's no meandering to be found. Matsson's voice is raspy and very raw-sounding, even more-so than middle-era Bob Dylan, but there's a real charm to it. When he raises his voice for the climactic moments, such as in the bridge section in the middle of "You're Going Back," you can really hear the passion in his voice. While his vocals may need some time to get used to, they stop sounding so abrasive once you get comfortable with them. His guitar work is another story; there's such a sense of intricacy to Matsson's playing, and multiple listens reveal a variety of subtle nuances in his music. The opening one-two punch of the title track and "Burden of Tomorrow" display this perfectly; the former reveals many of its interesting qualities in the chorus as the vocals shift between the guitar's rhythm and their own made-up rhythm. It provides a good contrast between the two sounds, and provides one of the emotional highlights of the album. Not only that, but there are a few plucked guitar runs that happen in the background of chorus, adding more personality to what the song already had. "Burden of Tomorrow," on the other hand, is absolutely beautiful. As the intro slowly builds up steam, you'll start to notice the heavy atmosphere this song has. Especially when Matsson sings "and I won't be a burden, not tomorrow, dear" with the descending acoustic strums in the chorus, the guitar work provides a sense of wonder and exploration in the way Matsson plays his chords.
There are a few interesting twists to this album as well. Closer "Kids on the Run" sees Matsson utilize a piano for the first time and "King of Spain" is a really fun tale about his supposed trip to Spain to become royalty (hence the title). It's nice to see a sense of adventure come out of Matsson; the album's title is The Wild Hunt, after all. The lyrics on the record, as I said before, feel generally timeless; most of them touch on philosophy, the trials and tribulations of life itself, and escapism. It will take multiple listens to really interpret what Matsson's words mean or come from, but they fit the elegant folk melodies perfectly. For instance, going back to "King of Spain," his playful lyrics compliment the high-energy guitar strums of the main motif of the song, as the guitar chords bounce back and forth swiftly with each chord progression. Then there's "The Drying of the Lawns," which sounds as quaint as the title suggests. Matsson's lyrics are very serene and work well with the complex yet laid-back guitar melodies. Every chord progression and melody feels so casual for this guy as he breezes through every song, and "The Drying of the Lawns" is especially notable for that. One more song that deserves special mention is the sparse "Love is All." Much of the song maintains a quiet tone with as little instrumentation as possible; that is, until the second chorus when Matsson starts yelling in a similar fashion to "You're Going Back." The dynamics of the song are very balanced, with the build-up to the middle's climax feeling very believable. The guitar work retains its high-speed fingerwork throughout, maintaining an intricate backdrop for an emotionally charged vocal performance.
Honestly, there's really not much more to say about this. It's just wonderful; from the first chord of the title track to the closing piano notes of "Kids on the Run," The Tallest Man on Earth has crafted one of the best albums to come out in ages. It's hard to believe that the record's considered by many to be a classic after only three years, but it makes sense after giving these 35 minutes a good hard listen. There have been numerous modern classics. but what sets this one apart from the others is its heart and back-to-basics sound. Perhaps this album can be the big escapist record for the ages, but if not, then it's still wonderful regardless. If you listen to music of any kind, this should be in your collection no matter what.