The Tallest Man On Earth - "King of Spain" (The Wild Hunt)
The Tallest Man on Earth’s first full-length album, Shallow Grave, sounded like a long-lost artifact, its musicianship evoking songcraft nearly a century old and its lyrical wordplay deft and enticing. That it was the work of a Swedish musician is mid-20s named Kristian Mattson may have come as a surprise. Whether jauntily describing the use of romantic rivals’ bodies for fertilizer in “The Gardener” or strumming out yearning in “Honey Won’t You Let Me In,” Mattson seemed deeply at home in this style, playing these songs with a sharp urgency. It didn’t hurt that his voice — world-weary and raspy, old decades beyond its years — is distinctive regardless of the year in which these recordings were made.
At first listen, The Wild Hunt sounds less overtly timeless than Shallow Grave — reviving the ’60s folk revival rather than the ground covered by its predecessor. “Burden of Tomorrow” and the title track have a lighter musical tone and proceed at a brisk pace, even as their lyrics open the album with abundant melancholy. “I plan to be forgotten when I go, and I’ll be leaving in the fall,” Mattson sings on “The Wild Hunt,” and it’s capped with a sound somewhere between a triumphant shout and a bitter laugh. But much of what made Shallow Grave so striking was its density, its pairing of deftly constructed lyrics with rapid-fire notes and chords. At times, some of the songs on The Wild Hunt — specifically “You’re Going Back” and “Love is All” — lead with the more abrasive side of Mattson’s voice but don’t land with much impact.
The album’s highlight is the ebullient “King of Spain,” which opens with quickly strummed chords and proceeds to up the tempo towards the frenetic. “I’m not from Barcelona,” Mattson sings 40 seconds into the song, and suggests that his palette of songwriting tools has expanded to incorporate the answer song. Specifically, one wonders whether it’s intended to reference his countrymen I’m From Barcelona — specifically, their song titled “We’re From Barcelona”? If so, it suggests that Mattson has internalized more than styles from decades past.
Interestingly, the album’s other high point comes from its final song, “Kids on the Run,” which is also its most contemporary-sounding, putting Matton’s plaintive vocals over a cavernous-sounding piano. It echoes the melancholy mode that opens the album, but with concerns of a narrator decades younger, abounding with romantic ideals. And in doing so, it suggests that Mattson’s next musical steps may move further away from the nostalgically-minded persona he had previously established, even as his set of historically-tested skills grows.