September 07, 2010 - Dead Oceans
Distilling the essence of Kristian Matsson’s (you know and love him as the Tallest Man On Earth) sepia-toned folklore is probably a task best left to the image that graced the cover of his 2010 full-length, The Wild Hunt: a dusty plain on the verge of sunset, taken—we can reasonably assume from the small strip of highway along the photo’s border—from the window of a moving vehicle. These are grainy snapshots of what Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America,” the kind of fleeting transmissions you might expect to pick up while driving through a stretch of Iowa where the only things you see for 150 miles are cornstalks, deceased rodents and the occasional sign attempting to divert an understandably bored driver 20 miles off-road even deeper into the middle of nowhere to gaze upon the world’s largest ball of yarn—sparse, vast, desolate, and epic in its quirkiness. You could forgive someone for being skeptical upon hearing that this guy’s from Sweden; with all due respect to that nation’s great countryside, this is some of the most distinctly American music we’ve ever heard.
Coming just months on the heels of The Wild Hunt, Matsson’s new EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird is one more notch in his belt of rural Midwestern minimalism—ragged but nimble guitar picking that does more to justify the generally lazy Bob Dylan comparison than everything except the little hair-flip thingy he has going on, and melody lines perfect enough to nullify it because in all his 69 years, Dylan never wrote ’em like this. “Little River” and “The Dreamer” are the kinds of tender pop songs under which vulnerable hearts collapse—Matsson sings with just enough detachment to keep his heart off his sleeve, so when he comes out with a lyric like, “Just enough dark to see/That you’re the light over me,” it comes off not as a cheap emoting but as legitimate sensitivity, which we’ve all heard enough Death Cab For Cutie records to know isn’t as lame as it sounds. Of these five tracks, only closer “Thrown Right At Me” is underwhelming, plain where it compatriots are—much like the great plains themselves—full of hidden idiosyncrasies despite outwardly appearing flat and one-dimensional. Pretty impressive for a guy whose latitudinal address is the same as that of ABBA.