With his debut album, The Tallest Man On Earth — alias Sweden’s Kristian Matsson — set the bar incredibly high. In Shallow Graves, Matsson “forced the Serengeti to disappear into my eyes” and “boiled the curtains to extract the drugs of springtime”… and that’s just the first two songs. Album favorite “The Gardener” deftly told the story of a lover gone mad with obsession and paranoia; yet it remained, at its heart, a love song. To say Matsson bore the weight of expectation with his follow-up would be an understatement.
But he bucks the sophomore slump on The Wild Hunt, forging another set of haunting acoustic folk that is at times darker than its predecessor. In the title (and opening) track, the speaker waits for his soul to be taken by the Wild Hunt — the “storming cavalcade” of myth, said to be a harbinger of war or famine or plague, and of certain death to all who cross its path. Matsson maintains his mythological bent on “Burden Of Tomorrow,” a song about a man who, “Rumor has it … was not born/ I just walked in one frosty morn/ Into the vision of some vacant mind.” Later he is “Just a blind man on the plains/ I drink my water when it rains/ And live by chance among the lightning strikes.” Even the disarmingly titled “Love Is All” conceals a twist — “Love is all, from what I’ve heard/ But my heart’s learned to kill.” This is not the song to play at your wedding.
Listen to “King Of Spain” – DOWNLOAD MP3
Musically, the album does not stray far from its predecessor. Matsson backs his earnest, plaintive vocals with his nimble guitar picking and strumming. But closer “Kids On The Run” hints at new horizons for his “man-with-guitar” style. With a big, brooding piano as his accompaniment, Matsson croons heartbreaking lines like, “And no, I will never speak of days/ Because I know you won’t count them/ No, we have never grown a day/ From the poison we shared,” in a song that stretches to nearly five minutes — an epic, by his standard.
Though nothing here quite reaches the dizzying heights of “The Gardener,” lead single “King Of Spain” comes close. A driving guitar opens the piece, before Matsson howls, “I never knew I was a lover,” launching into an outsized song about the power of illusion. He whirls through lines about “provok[ing] the bulls with words,” as “All the senoritas sighing/ Will be the fountain of my lies.”
But the record nearly skips when he declares, “I’ll wear my boots of Spanish leather/ Oh while I’m tightening my crown.” It’s a bold bit of self-awareness and derring-do (the numerous comparisons to Dylan at this point are both ubiquitous and superfluous), and Matsson delivers the line with the requisite wink and nod, begging the comparison while also undermining it. When in the following verse he intones, “Because you named me as your lover/ Well, I thought I could be anything,” he’s rebuffing attempts to be labeled — whether as a lover or as standard-bearer for the elusive “next Dylan.” Besides, why be the king of post-Elvis rock when he’d rather be the king of Spain?