Review Summary: Same man, different Earth.
I can still remember seeing Kristian Mattson being crowned as a visionary in 2010 on the heels of his seminal release, The Wild Hunt
. There were comparisons to Bob Dylan aplenty, which most people considered to be a strength while others lamented it as a cheap derivation. Regardless, no one at the turn of the decade sounded quite so promisingly raw, and there was this sense of infinite potential emanating from his cracking voice and frenetically plucked acoustic guitar. It seemed he could go anywhere and do anything, although most of us hoped that he’d stay right where he was, making the same gorgeously imperfect folk that caused us to swoon at the likes of ‘King of Spain’ and ‘Burden of Tomorrow.’
Well, be careful what you wish for – because three full-lengths later, Mattson is still the same man making the same art in a musical landscape that is…well, not
I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.
carefully performs a backwards walk into the framework established by The Wild Hunt
and There’s No Leaving Now
, after Dark Bird Is Home
teased more dynamic rock compositions, and even dared to flirt with some ambient effects. Instead of pushing these musical boundaries further, we find Mattson returning to his bread and butter while also eliminating any possible avenues of expansion. It’s the kind of move you might expect from a decade-spanning icon coming off of a long hiatus, but not a popular indie artist five albums into his career, where he should be entering his creative apex. In that way, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.
feels like giving up – it's a refusal to chase the dream any further, in favor of returning to the approach that won acclaim nearly a decade ago. At best it’s frustratingly safe, and it's certainly not the outcome one might have hoped for when Mattson first began extending his creative reach with songs like 'Sagres', or when Dark Bird
faded out to a resounding “oh, fuck” and a cathartic wave of pianos and guitars.
The problem certainly isn’t his skill set or songwriting ability, as these ten tracks all ring out with resounding poise and clarity. Yes, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.
is a beautifully bare acoustic folk record, and we would not expect anything less from The Tallest Man on Earth at this point. Mattson purists can rejoice in the raw, pastoral folk that recalls The Wild Hunt
, or in places, even Dylan. But that’s the problem…this album recalls
more than it defines
. The record’s chief success seems to be in helping listeners reminisce about a time where the landscape of folk music was being changed – be it in the 1960s or even back in 2010. Had he pioneered new territory that didn’t quite live up to lofty expectations, that would be preferable to treading old ground that still manages to fall short. This is just a batch of good but very familiar songs by an artist who has already done the same thing better.
Mattson falls under a magnifying glass of scrutiny thanks to the immense reception of his past works, which launched him into a fabled “god-tier” of folk artists. It may seem unfair to criticize him at length for not changing an approach that clearly works for him, but it comes with the territory when you’re considered to be at the forefront of your genre. The statement that Mattson is making with this album is that he’s comfortable in his acoustic folk niche. There’s little wrong with settling into a sweet spot, but it just means that Kristian might not be the visionary that some of us thought he was on the verge of becoming. There's No Leaving Now
as good as The Wild Hunt
– and now I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.
as good as There's No Leaving Now
. It’s diminishing returns on the same approach, and with this album we’ll definitely find ourselves satisfied yet again – only with another layer of appreciation eroded. He's chasing a milestone he'll most likely never again reach. Mattson is a talented artist and we'll all undoubtedly enjoy Fever Dream
to some extent, but at this point it’s more nostalgia than it is awe.