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After an absence of nearly three years, The Tallest Man on Earth returns with an anticipated compilation album that encompasses the most poignant moments of his previous musical offerings. It feels familiar, yet new in a fluttery way, inciting a feeling of butterflies in your stomach at every unexpected turn — comfortably, Dark Bird is Home (2015) marks Kristian Mattson as an ever-growing artist (albeit over long periods of time).

Songs like “Fields of Our Home,” “Singers,” and “Beginners” represent The Tallest Man of days past — homage to his early The Wild Hunt (2010). Going back and forth between this older, more recognizable sound, and Mattson’s newer experimentation feels like a road map: he gives us ups and downs, curves in the road, detours that flash us back to the past, and accelerations to the future sound of The Tallest Man on Earth.

In a triumphant uplift, the album’s first single “Sagres” appears with this newer sound and incorporates new musical elements, such as backing vocals and brass instruments, the latter of which are the most identifiable change avid Tallest Man listeners hear. Trumpets pick us up in another hopeful mid-album track “Slow Dance.”

In favor of these new elements on Dark Bird, some of the more recognizable sounds used in previous material have dissappeared or been muted. The identifiable raspy quality of Mattson’s voice, though still present, plays less of a role in this new arrival. This newfound clarity of his voice sits on top of familiar strumming patterns reminiscent of songs like “Troubles Will Be Gone” off The Wild Hunt (2010). Despite the changes in his voice, the addition of choral backing vocals, and new instruments, Dark Bird still whisks us away to that eternal pastoral landscape at the end of the roadmap, where Mattson sits, strumming these songs, covered in dirt and windblown.

“Suddenly the day gets you down / But this is not the end / No this is fine,” he concludes as “Dark Bird is Home,” the song that brought forth the name of the album, closes off on a hopeful note. The standout track is a slow, but poignant ending. Its placement lets the album befit a lazy Sunday drive — easy listening for that curved road.

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Only incrementally different from his previous releases, listeners can be happy with both the familiarity and the subtle newness of Dark Bird is Home. If there is one thing that Mattson does well on this album, it’s mixing these often contradictory states seamlessly — Dark Bird meshes old Tallest Man sounds with new, giving the listener both downbeat, sad-sounding tracks and hopeful ones.

With the announcement earlier this year that The Tallest Man on Earth will take to the US road with a full band for the first time ever, Mattson’s map has the Bay Area marked as a stopping point. Catch The Tallest Man on Earth at The Fox May 21 for an after-graduation treat.

Article by Sam Putt

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