When Kristian Matsson, also known as The Tallest Man on Earth, first hit the scene in 2006, he found himself as a sort of outlier. His fellow folkies were exploring the avenues of freak folk, popularized by artists like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, whereas Matsson’s music was more reminiscent of traditional folk music, in the vein of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. But that wasn’t the only reason he stood out amongst the crowd; his use of alternate tunings combined with his complex fingerpicking patterns showcased his innovation and dexterity as a guitarist, and his pretenseless lyrics offered listeners a familiar yet contemporary perspective that couldn’t be found among his peers. His music has been so well received that most people haven’t even challenged his questionable assertion of being the tallest man on the planet. In fact, an in-depth analysis of the Guinness Book of World Records yields not one mention of the name “Kristian Matsson”, in the height category or otherwise! Regardless, one thing that can’t be speculated upon is his enduring popularity and proficiency as a songwriter, which he once again showcases on his newest offering, I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream.
Unfortunately, a fair amount of the initial buzz generated from Matsson’s music orbited around numerous comparisons to Bob Dylan (in both a positive and negative context.) He is well aware of this and has addressed these comparisons in interviews, crediting the similarities to the fact that both he and Dylan are drawing from the same well of influences. That’s fair; it’s not like Dylan has cornered the market on traditional folk music. But there are certain moments on this album where it feels like Matsson is purposely leaning in on these comparisons. For instance, track three, “There’s a Girl,” is Dylan-esque in both sentiment and vocal inflection. Likewise, in the chorus of track five, “What I’ve Been Kicking Around,” his emphasis on the word “around” is an uncanny Dylan impression. Or track seven, “Waiting for the Ghost,” which wouldn’t sound at all out of place on one of Dylan’s earlier albums. This isn’t to say that they aren’t enjoyable songs — those works are folk staples for a reason — but it certainly won’t discourage his critics from decrying his work as derivative.
Matsson is the embodiment of the restless troubadour archetype; a restless soul who travels perpetually in search of a place he can finally call “home.” It seems that he has had no such luck, however, as the majority of these songs deal with alienation, disenchantment, and wanderlust. He laments about “seeing this road so many times before” in the title track. On track five, “What I’ve Been Kicking Around,” he sings of hitting the road with “a silver dollar in his shoe.” Or track eight, “I’ll Be A Sky,” he sings of “traveling through the storms.” Even in his dreams, he’s on the move, as referenced in track nine, “All I Can Keep is Now:” “Whenever I sleep, it’s a goddamn journey.”
While this album is relatively homogenous, there are a handful of tracks that stand out from the pack. Track six, “I’m A Stranger Now,” is noteworthy for its insanely catchy chorus, vigorous guitar strumming and vocal syncopation. Track nine, “All I Can Keep is Now,” is special right off the bat: the track opens with some Kaki King-esque guitar harmonics, which quickly transforms into some of the most impressive fingerpicking on the album. His vocals are markedly more soulful, and the instrumental is more optimistic than the rest of the tracks. Track ten, “I Love You. It’s A Fever Dream,” is a culmination of all the best parts this album has to offer but stands apart due to its soaring brass arrangements (which is something not commonly found in this style of music).
Ultimately, this album falls neatly in line with his previous works. He’s still channeling the folk giants who have been shaping his music from the start, which some listeners might find this disappointing, but his fanbase will no doubt appreciate his steadfastness to this aesthetic. Perhaps one day, he too will “go electric”, but for now it seems as though his compositional process is guided by the age-old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And while questions surrounding the validity of his grandiose claims of height remain unanswered, his music is undoubtedly as powerful and heartfelt as it’s ever been.