Review Summary: Seeing eye to eye with The Tallest Man on Earth
“Hotel Bar” might be one of the most haunting portrayals of loneliness I’ve ever heard. The opening act of I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream
contains more of a personal touch than any Tallest Man on Earth album before it. The poignant guitar strumming and Kristian Matsson reassuring himself that things will be fine
resonate with me unlike anything he’s written. It’s far from just a somber song with a soft guitar, however. The track bursts to life as it progresses - warm brass and harmonicas giving it a sturdy backbone and sense of hope. It’s musically gorgeous and a bit depressing, but man is it an effective portrayal of one man’s isolation.
For the most part, it’s this stronger connection between the audience and artist that makes I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream
so special. As fantastic as fan-favorites Shallow Grave
and The Wild Hunt
are, those albums felt more about a sense of adventure than getting beneath the thick skin of Kristian Matsson (save for the occasional track or two). Slowly but surely, he’s been removing the façade – reducing himself to just another guy. Dark Bird is Home
was the first major turning point for his sound – a dreary but finely orchestrated break-up album molded from the ashes of divorce. With I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream
, the artist continues his venture down a more intimate lyrical path, albeit this time in a more relaxed setting.
His latest album is more stripped down at times, but this proves to work out in the musician’s favor. Just because he’s capable of flashy playing doesn’t mean every track needs to be thrown into fingerpicking overdrive. We’ve already heard that before on The Wild Hunt
! Dialing back the intensity, “All I Can Keep Is Now” feels like a tasteful throwback to '60s folk music – at times eerily similar to the classic “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. I don’t want to spoil the lyrics, but they are simply godly on this track. When needed, Matsson does still kick things up a notch musically, as evident in the stimulating guitar manipulation of “My Dear” and “I’m a Stranger Now.” All in all, this is one of his most balanced albums to date, combining bits and pieces that worked so well on past efforts with a much softer stroke.
Dark Bird is Home
was a necessary step forward for Matsson’s music, but it sometimes bit off more than it could chew; some of the songs were just too drawn out and unfocused. I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream
takes everything that worked well in that album – vulnerable lyrics, the dreamier structures – and refines them into a more straightforward, vintage folk sound. The orchestral touches are more subtle, but boy are they there. Lead single “The Running Styles of New York” would have fit right at home on his most divisive album, with an enticing cinematic feel flowing from pianos and strings so subtle they’re almost too
easy to miss the first time. The entire experience – despite the production being so delicate and a bit foggy – is dressed up with bright horns, strings and more. This gives the audience so much to uncover with repeat listens aside from the fantastic lyrics. No other Tallest Man on Earth album finds Matsson busting out so much harmonica. If you didn’t already before, you’ll certainly get a classic Dylan vibe with the busy vibrations of “There’s a Girl” or “Waiting for My Ghost.” The harmonicas are always tastefully placed - never overdone yet giving the music an extra jolt of life and character.
Despite this, there are also some stylistic choices here that feel like a throwback to early Tallest Man on Earth releases. “I’m a Stranger Now” comes to mind - its joyful guitars in full bloom very reminiscent of “King of Spain.” Sure, it’s a familiar approach, but when the songwriting is “this” moving, it feels like anything but recycled. Lyrically, it’s one of songwriter’s most poignant, relatable moments – a song about seeking your independence and reclaiming your personal identity. It’s easy to forget that Matsson had a life partner – a shoulder to lean on in dark times – on the heels of The Wild Hunt.
He’s had to regain his balance as a person, and that time is now.
It’s only fitting The Tallest Man on Earth’s most poignant album to date ends with the confessional, acoustic title track. Much more optimistic in tone, it fills the emotional holes Matsson revealed in “Hotel Bar” - closing the album out with a proper high. It’s a bit soon to say if I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream
is his strongest album yet, but it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. None of his albums have been immediate, and I’m still uncovering lyrical gems and thrilling highlights. All I know for sure: this is the most I’ve been able to see eye to eye with the nasally songwriter. His lyrics and guitar work hooked me since day one, but there’s a fragile, more human approach in the songwriting here that feels refreshing to me. I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream
is an album for just about anybody; anyone who’s been lonely or unsure and just needs some reassurance. While it’s true it’s his saddest album yet – drawing more from a pit of personal pain than post-relationship blues – there are loads of hopeful lyrics and comforting tones that stand testament to Matsson moving on as an individual. “I’m a Stranger Now”, “Hotel Bar” and “All I Can Keep Is Now” are among his best work to date. Hell, let’s throw the slow-burning title track in there as well as one of his absolute best cuts. That one almost floated past me at first, but the man’s ability to make more of an impact with less is nothing short of astounding here. These tracks beg for repeats and feel equally moving and sincere each time. I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream
is Matsson’s moment… again. It’s taken him years to reclaim his footing, but what a gorgeous, powerful album of self-discovery this is.