The Lowdown: When Kristian Matsson, the Swedish singer-songwriter who performs under the moniker The Tallest Man on Earth, laid an almost indiscernible banjo track over the guitar on the opener of 2010’s The Wild Hunt, it came as quite a shock given his solo folk purity. But since then, his production has steadily diversified — though always austerely — from the plugged-in sound of fan-favorite “The Dreamer” to (gasp!) a drum kit on his last full-length album in 2015, Dark Bird Is Home. His newest project, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. finds Mattson continuing this sonic exploration, playing with horns and pianos to create vast swathes of lonely folk music.
The Good: Counterintuitively, the songs on I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. are most successful when the glittery production is most reigned in. Take “Waiting for My Ghost”, where a gossamer harmonica warbles over reverberating acoustic guitar, or the title track, where Matsson utilizes space and silence to build toward an ascendant horn line that seems to lift you right out of the end of the album. But even when the production is most involved, it isn’t hard to feel refreshed by a Tallest Man song like “The Running Styles of New York”, which begins with a tremor of synth and features a resonant piano and strings.
The Bad: There’s something a little overwrought about many of these songs, as if Matsson set out to write a distinctly poppier album but couldn’t quite get over his penchant for bizarre metaphors and fret board-slapping fingerpicking. The opener, “Hotel Bar”, builds toward a tolling piano denouement dripping with hope that never quite feels fitting for the singer, while “All I Can Keep Is Now” maintains a generally saccharine atmosphere.
The Verdict: All of the songs on I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. have echoey production, with guitars, strings, horns, and harmonicas whispering ethereally in the background. It’s a solemn, languid ambience, like a late summer breeze — pleasant, but verging on boring. For die-hard fans of The Tallest Man on Earth, there’s plenty of material to latch onto here, but for everyone else, the music floats around so much that there isn’t much solid ground for entry.
Essential Tracks: “I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream.”, “Waiting for My Ghost”, and “I’ll Be a Sky”
Buy: Check out more Tallest Man on Earth vinyl here.
Gabriel Fine can be found on Twitter.