The Tallest Man On Earth reaches new heights with his personal album Dark Bird Is Home, but does not quite create the excitement necessary to make it a truly great album.
Dark Bird Is Home marks the fourth album of Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man on Earth, following the release of There’s No Leaving Now in 2012. It’s a very personal album about a divorce, what leads up to it and what comes after – leaving it saturated in emotion and personal experience. But it also sees Matsson heading in a different direction, with a more full-bodied sound than his previous focus on the bare bones of his vocals and an acoustic guitar.
Our 40 minute journey with Matsson begins with ‘Fields of Our Home’, which softly opens the album with solitary guitar melodies before we are graced with Matsson’s unique voice. The album does not begin with much difference to the sound associated with The Tallest Man On Earth, but towards the end of the track Matsson is joined with backing vocals from Mike Noyce which lift the track and give it new life. There’s a certain magical quality about the echoey reverberations that shine at its highest point, leading us neatly onto ‘Darkness of the Dream’- a track that packs a bit more of a punch from the off. It sees Matsson expanding his instrumentation, with a range of percussive instruments and piano, which add strength to his voice that he has already proven can stand in isolation.
In ‘Singers’ we can hear the slow paced and clear vocals that are associated with Matsson. The track is recognisably bare boned in comparison to the rest of Dark Bird Is Home, but it works as a reassuring nod to Matsson’s previous work. ‘Slow Dance’ swells with the lovely image of a couple dancing in a kitchen as lyrics of dancing are subtly carried over from ‘Singers’. It is simple images like this that the album is subtly sprinkled with that show us the person inflections of the music. ‘Slow Dance’ is the saddest track of the album, relaying to the listener the breakdown of a home, juxtaposed with its jaunty and bouncy tone. Matsson shows, particularly in this track, that sad subject matter does not have to be sad and waning – and there is something of a cathartic nature about Dark Bird Is Home.
‘Little Nowhere Towns’ begins with the distance cry of a swooping bird before entering with a delicate piano melody. It again sees a return to a focus on Matsson’s vocals, but his collaboration with Mike Noyce’s higher tone makes for a harmonious combination. The more upbeat and fuller sound of ‘Sagres’, however, is a welcome distraction from the relatively slow pace of Dark Bird Is Home, and lifts the album where it needs it most. It acts as a little nudge halfway through in case you had drifted away into the folky realms of Matsson’s voice, which is continued through the catchy chorus and fast guitar work that features on ‘Timothy’.
As listeners reach the end of Dark Bird Is Home, Matsson reminisces being ‘Seventeen’ in a settled and nostalgic track that fades out into what begins as an underwhelming conclusion to the album. The title track, ‘Dark Bird Is Home’, serves as its end. The track initially lulls listeners along, but it is best not to get complacent here. Just when you are left thinking that Dark Bird Is Home will not quite reach the new heights that it has set up at points throughout it, the track gains the body that can be found on ‘Darkness Of The Dream’ and ‘Slow Dance’. It is the strongest track on the album, and as we are letting go of it, so is Matsson. It is a sad conclusion to his personal narrative, detailing “I thought this would last for a million years, but now I need to go.” The full-bodied sound on ‘Dark Bird Is Home’ is what this album needs to be remembered for, and it shows Matsson’s development and expansion of his music’s instrumentation and sound.
For such a personal album, Matsson does well to universalise his themes and create an enjoyable album that is not bitter despite its subject matter. Overall, Dark Bird Is Home is a decent album, but The Tallest Man On Earth does not leave me hanging off of his every word. That said, this album is rich with the lovely vocals of Matsson, and would serve as a lovely accompaniment to a relaxed summer evening.
Dark Bird Is Home is out now via Dead Oceans.