Let the Angel Vocals speak for themselves
Dark Bird is Home begins quietly with the song “Fields of Our home.” The track is driven by a characteristic Tallest Man (aka Kristian Matsson) guitar rhythm, as it winds itself out slowly and gently into a wailing, dreamlike ballad. The listener is clued into the unique aspects of this album early on in this track as light ambient electronics and other instrumentation accompany the Tallest Man, and then, abruptly yet fittingly, we are hit by something entirely new from the Swedish songster’s repertoire: backup vocals.
The Tallest Man On Earth had three full length albums already under his belt prior to Dark Bird is Home, all of which followed a similar pattern; ten songs, minimal instrumentation, and ragged, often shrieked vocals. He released quite a few hit singles off of these albums as well, most notable of which being “King of Spain” and “The Gardener.” It’s safe to say that if one were to walk into a crowded room and yell “I want to be the!!!” there would be a number of “King of Spaaiiiinnnsssss” in reply. Though Kristian Matsson has wormed his raucous songwriting and intricate lyricism into the minds of people all over the world, and has been compared to the likes of Bob Dylan for his vocal style and songwriting prowess, he has not yet become a household name. I believe that Dark Bird is Home could change all of that for The Tallest Man on Earth.
The second track, “Darkness of the Dream,” has a danceable beat and washed out vocals that are different than almost anything heard from the Tallest Man so far in his career. The chorus is reminiscent of Paul Simon’s album “Graceland,” with its swelling vocals and full harmonies. This is a song that almost anyone could enjoy as they drive down the road, whether they are a teenager who can only think about love, or a middle aged person who wishes that they couldn’t think about it anymore. That is what makes this album a standout for the Tallest Man. It is palatable to an audience that may not have much exposure to the musical idiom that the Tallest Man operates within, while it is still true enough to his roots that die-hard fans will not reject it for its instrumentation or other experimental qualities.
Kristian Matsson uses his voice quite differently from track to track throughout this album. He seems to have the ability to recreate effects that other singers may only be able to achieve through the use of effects pedals, with nothing but his own voice. He can be soft and gentle at times, while still being able to shriek and wail like the foot stomping “folk singer” he has been labelled as. One vocal standout on this album is the song “Little Nowhere Towns,” and it once again features an appearance by vocal accompaniments that the liner notes attribute to “Angel Vocals.” The author has a sneaking suspicion that the vocals are actually those of Kristian’s wife, another musician who goes by the name of “Idiot Wind.”
The final track on this album, which also happens to be the title track, starts out slow and gentle, much like the first track. This relationship perhaps points to a cyclical intent to this album, as in you should listen to it on repeat. It is not end on this note however, as Kristian Matsson reportedly told listeners in the studio just after he completed the album, get ready for the end. The lyrics go as follows:
“Still I thought this would last for a million years,
Now I need to go,
Then the song launches into a head bobbing instrumental outro, with a rock rhythm on the drums and a tambourine shaking. There are violins and keys that help to fill out the harmony as Kristian Matsson puts this album to rest.
Dark Bird is Home is provides a new experience to old Tallest Man listeners, and a good experience to new ones. This is an album that stays true to The Tallest Man on Earth’s roots while expanding on what he can do, both structurally and musically. The biggest change to come from this album is the addition of backup vocals, which help to bring out the beauty and mystery of Kristian Matsson’s voice and songwriting ability. Dark Bird is Home can be listened to over and over again, and like all good art, the meaning of this album will change with the listener. For now, enjoy The Tallest Man On Earth’s triumphant addition to an already amazing career.