When: Fri., May 29, 8 p.m. 2015
The Tallest Man on Earth
Friday, May 29
durham performing arts center, durham—The Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson has always seemed interested in a larger-than-life appearance. For the last decade, the rather diminutive Matsson has recorded and released music under the name The Tallest Man on Earth, an ironic sobriquet that afforded the instant suggestion of a tall tale's folk hero. And his music has most often been recorded cheaply and quickly, so that his sung verses, shouted choruses, aggressive acoustic strums and even plaintive piano themes crackle and hiss when they emerge from the speakers. The aesthetic suggests a major act bursting through a minor vessel, a legend demanding to be written.
But when Matsson began making his fourth album, the new Dark Bird is Home, he came face to face with human frailty. A family member died. His career had reached a sort of crossroads, putting him at the fretful intersection of modest stardom and noted obscuration. And most important, he found himself in the throes of a divorce with his wife and longtime collaborator, fellow singer-songwriter Amanda Bergman.
So, in essence, he recruited a posse of dudes to make a proper full-band record—the lone folk hero, coming in from the exotic wilderness. He teamed with Bon Iver producer and former Raleigh resident B.J. Burton and his cadre of instrumentalists, together tracking drums and effects and horns and strings and harmonies across two continents. The results sound sometimes like Springsteen ("Sagres"), maybe a little like Coldplay ("Darkness of the Dream") and, at their very best, like an augmented version of The Tallest Man on Earth ("Singers" and "Slow Dance").
All of these additions, however, fit inside Mattson's past approach, so that the tape still pops and the vocals still crack. It's as though Mattson were afraid to let go of the myth he'd made for himself. The effect can sometimes feel forced on songs and arrangements that want to be big, not limited by the way in which they were recorded or the lineage in which they were rendered. It is, at times, like staring at a beautiful piece of Restoration Hardware furniture, where something traditional or vintage has been appropriated for mass delivery in shopping malls—larger than life, indeed. With Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. 8 p.m., $28–$35, 123 Vivian St., Durham, 919-688-3722, www.dpacnc.com. —Grayson Haver Currin