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The Tallest Man on Earth picks five of his favorite songs, plays First Fridays

May 7, 2010 | 10:10 am
Tallestman1 Let’s just get it out of the way. The Tallest Man on Earth, the nom de folk of Kristian Matsson, sounds eerily like early Bob Dylan. The pre-Newport, pre-electric Bobby D, with a head haunted by crooked streets and expensive dreams, ancestral ghosts and an ashtray heart. It’s partially his voice: at once a leaden lament, and a fluttering prayer, occupying the nexus between suffering and transcendence. Were you ignorant of Matsson’s backstory, you’d picture visions of blurry boxcars, the smudged faces and empty stomachs of a Nelson Algren protagonist.

But Matsson’s experiences aren’t a result of an elaborate mythology or scorching summers spent shuttling across forlorn Midwestern highways. Instead, the Swedish-born troubadour draws upon the lonely Scandinavian countryside of his childhood. Listening to his plaintive voice and emotive acoustic guitar, you can envision the endlessly cold nights at the high latitudes. Like Dylan at his most desolate, this is northern country music, the sort of thing that will always be in vogue among undergraduate romantics trawling for the right mix tape track.

Since Bon Iver took him on tour in late 2008, Matsson’s stature has rapidly risen, with estimable indie Dead Oceans releasing his sophomore album, “The Wild Hunt,” last month. Receiving almost unanimous critical acclaim and a coveted best new music distinction from Pitchfork, The Tallest Man on Earth has positioned himself as one of the contemporary folk music’s leading lights and perhaps Bon Iver’s only real rival for the affectation of Plath-reading liberal arts students (not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

In advance of his performance at tonight’s First Fridays at the Natural History Museum, Pop & Hiss asked Matsson to break down a few of his all-time favorite songs. Bob Dylan not included.

Five of The Tallest Man on Earth's favorites

Skip James -- "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" 

Just stumbled upon it one day when I was 19 or something, and I've been trying to steal some of that atmosphere ever since. This together with finding Nick Drake led me to open tunings on the guitar, and that's what led me into writing songs.

Neutral Milk Hotel -- "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"

Found it late, during a tour in the States a couple of years back. Just hits me in the guts every time I find it again.

Bon Iver -- "Stacks"

The verse about the crow with the keys. I got to hear it from side-stage every night when I toured with the guys in 2008, and this is what has kept me going since. It's really hard to tell what it is in a song that really makes it special to you. but in this one there are so many things happening to me, it's like hitting the reset button when you're uninspired and stressed-out.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford -- "Turtle Dove"

This happy, nonsense song has something really eerie about it in the way he sings and plays the banjo. I can never really figure out what is going on. I picked up the banjo after hearing this, and there are a lot of songs hidden inside of a banjo.

Tom Waits -- "Black Market Baby"

I borrowed "Mule Variations" from a friend in high school, and I still have it. Sorry buddy. This guy, with all his one-liners, made me interested in writing lyrics and he's still one of my biggest inspirations.

-- Jeff Weiss


MP3: The Tallest Man on Earth - "Burden of Tomorrow"

MP3: The Tallest Man on Earth - "King of Spain"

Photo Via Chris La Putt

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