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The Dancer and the Doubt: Chris on the New Album from The Tallest Man on Earth

Posted by September 5th, 2012 No Comments »

The Tallest Man on Earth
There’s No Leaving Now
By Chris McCann 

The talk of Kristian Matsson, also known as the Tallest Man on Earth, is often of his music — the virtuosic guitar playing, the stripped-down arrangements, the bare stage, the presence of the man. But on his newest album There’s No Leaving Now, Matsson’s lyrics take center stage. They’re evocative and oblique, hinting at something never said, saying things that that can’t be trusted.

Running through this remarkable record is a desire for escape, a hope in the open road, which Matsson seems to desire and distrust at the same time.

On the mid-tempo “Wind and Walls,” he announces a break with the past, a setting out on a new adventure, one that is altogether more interior, more dangerous.

So you drifted off to see what’s not in yourself
Light is turning slowly, will it lay out on the plains?
No more nights of what you wrote back then
No relief of no rain
Singing songs of rivers tied to accidents within
Telling people lies of lions, treasures and kings.
Nothing is more revealing than the dancer and the doubt
Waving to forget what’s never gone, always there, never right.
In all these riots of broken sounds
Like the last voice you heard, when you drowned.

He’s forgoing the easy tales of “lions, treasures and kings” to investigate the uneasy interplay between the “dancer and the doubt.”

Later, in the meditative and devastating “Little Brother,” Matsson shoulders the yoke of the wanderer again, this time running away, toward the fairy-tale dark forest and its “legion of wolves.”

I won’t be around in the morning
Can only pray there’s no harm in me moving on
To my trials and your unknown.

The stately “1904” progresses at a steady clip, alluding to some vague catastrophe and underlining the necessity of movement, if only for its own sake.

Here is something so strange and something louder than before
You’re living with no light or direction but damn precise,
And now you know
When believing is hard but you go now
And you feel what you drag ‘cross the floor.


Departure promises nothing in these songs. No redemption. No relief. Just the possibility of change. It’s all a bit vertiginous, looking out over a life that’s uncharted, undefined. Matsson seems comfortable in that space in between meaning and unmeaning. Still, there are times when the evocative overtakes the declarative almost completely. It’s all a mystery, but it seems to make a sense of its own.

Lines like these from the lovely and heartbreaking “Bright Lanterns”:

I was light and I held it like a child to be saved
from the fires, from the falling down satellite.

It is as though Matsson has come in from another world, stepping through this curtain of light we imagine daily to be impenetrable, bringing tales of what happens on the other side.

There’s also a bit of the terror and attraction to the sublime that can be found in writers from Wordsworth and Coleridge down to Melville and Cormac McCarthy. A fascination with landscape and its effect on the individual.

Now this may all sound way too academic, but Matsson’s songs hit like a 2×4: with immediacy and impact. But I’d argue that, the reason why we’ll still be listening to Matsson in 20 years is not that his songs are catchy and memorable — although they certainly are — it’s that they bear investigation. There are mysteries here that may only be solved after 100 listenings. Or 1,000. Or perhaps never.

But isn’t that the point of the sublime? It’s beyond understanding, beyond reason. It’s the crash of a wave in the night. The long snarl of a mountain range. The breathless expanse of open plains in the fading light. We stand and stare. In awe of the world and the marvelous things it contains.

The songs of Kristian Matsson are in many ways secrets to be passed between temporary confidants — transients on their ways to unknown futures, sharing a moment of passionate connection before continuing on their solitary ways.

As he drawls in “1904,”

The only one you can tell it to
Well, it’s the only one who’ll ever know.   

And if we’re listening, there’s a chance we’ll get a glimpse of the grandeur and strangeness of the world — even if we don’t get that much closer to understanding it.

The Tallest Man on Earth brings his road show of hope and despair to the Moore on Sunday, September 9. The excellent Strand of Oaks opens.

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