The Tallest Man on Earth: "1904"


By Matt Main | 21 May 2012

Sometimes it feels like Kristian Matsson is just recording a series of personal jokes, events only he and maybe one another can understand. The indie-folk tradition he writes out of certainly comes loaded with associations of intimacy, and it is not uncommon for artists to direct songs at single people, merely allowing the listener to nestle under the duvet alongside the speaker and his intended audience, a silent observer to some intensely personal expression. But the Tallest Man on Earth differs in this respect, as the meanings of his songs can often feel opaque and inaccessible. Matsson even acknowledges this circle of confidence in “1904”: “And the only one you can tell it to / Well it’s the only one that ever knows.”

According to Matsson, this song is about death, and a mysterious event that “shook the earth in 1904.” We’ll have to take his word on that; it’s impossible to parse what exactly this event is, how it relates to death, or how any of it informs his crooning. A shift in subject to more darker matter, as Rolling Stone describes in an interview with him, would make for an interesting—and welcome—exploration of new territory, but truth be told that alleged layer of depth doesn’t even really translate to the aesthetic on “1904.” Major chords, brisk strumming, Matsson’s charming falsetto; all are pleasant enough, but no aspect of the track really suggests a significant shift in thematic direction. In the same interview, he notes: “Sometimes I just needed to make [these songs] even more abstract because some were almost a bit too much than what I could handle right now.” In the case of “1904,” this abstraction once again forces us outside, ear pressed to the closed bedroom door, able only to discern occasional fragments of whispered sentences.