The Tallest Man On Earth Is About To Get Big(ger)

Despite being the Tallest Man on Earth, Kristian Matsson is only 5’7.

You don’t notice this humorous incongruity when he’s on stage however. Fueled by excitement and eagerness to please his crowd, he bounces across the stage, arms waving, toothpick legs kicking up at odd angles as he dances. It’s hard not to smile just from his very presence.

Matsson is not a newcomer to the music scene. His self-titled debut EP came out in 2008, and he has enjoyed a steadily growing fan base throughout the years, bolstered by appearances on YouTube channels such as NPR’s TinyDesk series. Some worried that he may have reached his peak in 2010, when he released his two strongest albums to date, The Wild Hunt and Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird EP. But those who have been long-term fans can tell that something is building, and there is likely a lot more on the horizon for the young Swede.

The release of his new album Dark Bird Is Home features a landmark event for Matsson. No longer a lonely man with a beat up guitar, he now finds himself a frontman, with a full band behind him. It’s a smart move; while he made his name on his folk melodies, the fullness of a band propels him out of a coffee shop setting and into a different league of music.

And, just as his fans are getting used to the idea of Matsson with a drummer, he is too. His set was course, unrefined, and rough. While playing older songs, he forgot to stop and cue in his band on several occasions. Each time he shakes his head and laughs self-deprecatingly. It appears hard for him to imagine he’d get here either.

But this works to his benefit. The look of surprise on his face when the bass comes in is adorable. His smile is contagious. It’s refreshing to see a show that is not perfectly coifed. The piano was a little sharp, the stage cues weren’t perfect. But the details were not important to Matsson and his crew: The experience of being on stage and playing music for his fans is what he is there for.

It’s been awhile since Matsson toured, and while he said he missed it, the time off may have been exactly what he needed. The artistic growth between Dark Bird is Home and his previous album There’s No Leaving Now is remarkable. At his best, Matsson is an eloquent lyricist, and his songs are moving and catchy. At his worst, his songs can run together in a haze of forceful acoustic strumming and a melodious and Dylan-esque voice. Dark Bird Is Home doesn’t fall prey to the weaknesses of previous albums. His influences have grown. Springsteen can be heard heavily throughout the piece, and half the album feels like it should be placed directly into the next Cameron Crowe movie. The shining track “Little Nowhere Towns” feels like Brian Wilson meets Brian Adams, and I would be quite content to let Matsson play piano to me for the rest of my life.

His growth is evident in his concerts as well. Having seen Matsson once before many moons ago, I was delighted by a laid-back acoustic set in a small venue, where some people sat on the ground to listen. His more recent tour could not have been a larger departure; the sizeable Lincoln Theatre venue was packed, he had a light show, and he was willing to explore and play around with his new songs, as well as old favorites. It’s like a breath of fresh air has been blown into Matsson.

I believe that there is a place in the mainstream indie scene opening, and Matsson may very well be the one to fill it. Following Bon Iver’s skyrocket to fame, it’s not unheard of. The season’s top hits include songs by George Ezra and James Bay, and with Mumford trading in their banjos for a low-fi pedal, Matsson could very well be a contender.

For those like myself who love the man (probably more than is socially acceptable) and hate to see his beauty spread to the populace, I say: chill out. His music is accessible and good for the soul, and I also find it unlikely he will be collaborating with Kanye West anytime soon.

If last year was dominated by Hozier’s melancholy dirges, I feel every optimism that this year could see the rise of Matsson’s hopeful ballads.

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