There’s something that always intrigues me about songs where I’m not entirely sure what the lyrics mean, but the emotion is so palpable. The best of these work because the music supports an idea that is intentionally being kept from becoming literal, and I like to think the artists want us to be able to make these songs our own in some way. Really, this is poetry in its purest, most literary form. Someone that I think excels at this art form is The Tallest Man on Earth, and his new single, “Sagres,” is no exception.
From the opening chords that vaguely call to mind Bruce Springsteen’s “My Home Town,” this sounds at once familiar and new for fans of Kristian Matsson. The melodies are identifiable as his, but there is a much fuller production than even on his last album, There’s No Leaving Now. It is also much smoother sounding than ever. On his earlier albums he’s said he was always trying to sing as loudly as possible but now he has settled on a much quieter style. Still here is the craft though. There’s something that is just special about Matsson’s music, and it comes through in this song. I get the sense he begins with a feeling and works towards that, rather than starting with a story or a specific set of lyrics or even, really, a melody. Organic might be a meaningless pretentious way to describe it, but it’s about as close as I can think of to sum it up. His music is among the most emotional I’ve ever heard, and that’s not to say it’s sad, but it is primarily felt and later listened to. I’ve heard this song, I don’t know how many times since it was released this week, and each time, it grabs me a different way.
Once you dig in, familiar themes do emerge. He’s been called a folk singer, which I think is wrong, but his songs tend to involve a lot of images of travel in a vagabond sense. Freedom and open country and the romanticism that comes with these things play a big part, as they do in folk music, but the way he uses these ideas tend be very grounded and metaphorical at the same time. Not to mention he can completely turn them on their head. The emotion is usually quite complex. In “Sagres,” the verses build on his quiet, pained voice and the clincher comes when his voice breaks at “it’s just all this f***ing doubt,” taking me right along with it. It’s noteworthy that Sagres, the village in Portugal for which the song is named, is on a cliff. The doubt that breaks him could be the doubt of someone standing on that cliff or any cliff, real or metaphorical.
This is one of his sadder-feeling songs, to be sure. There’s a sense of loss in it. He’s mentioned in the past that he’s inspired by Bon Iver, and this may be the first time that I’ve really felt that clearly in his music. I saw him on his last tour and left as a much bigger fan than before. He will be touring with a full band this time, and I hope to see him. The Tallest Man on Earth’s new album, Dark Bird Is Home arrives in May. I can’t wait.