Tour de Horse: Matsson?s latest is adventurous?but somber.

Kristian Matsson, aka the Tallest Man on Earth, stands at about 5 feet 5 inches; his handle is a winking disavowal of reality and its confines. On The Wild Hunt, the Swede’s sophomore LP, Matsson rarely strays from familiar folk structures and doesn’t even pick up an instrument beyond his dusty acoustic guitar, except during a Journeyesque piano ballad at the end. But while the new album is formally traditional, it is also vividly imaginative. Like Matsson’s 2008 album Shallow Grave, The Wild Hunt is full of topography, weather and wildlife—at times it’s hard not to think of Max gallivanting with the Wild Things or Calvin striking out for the Yukon with his stuffed tiger and little red wagon. And yet Matsson’s lyrical riddles suggest burdens too heavy to haul around in a Radio Flyer. With extraordinary intimacy, he addresses each song to a mysterious woman who is never named or even described. In “You’re Going Back,” he laments her decision to return to a city whence he once rescued her. When Matsson croaks, “Once you said driver, please don’t go that fucking way/You said just let it go away/Now you’re going back,” the effect is genuine pain. Elsewhere, the singer describes himself as a sinner, with “evil in his pocket” and a “heart that’s learnt to kill.” Matsson is a student of the Delta blues, and the gothic elements of that genre bleed into his landscapes, fantastical as they often seem. It is no accident that the album’s single, a galloping tune called “The King of Spain,” alludes to Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” a story about a civil servant whose hardships beget delusions of grandeur. Though Matsson strikes a similarly fanciful pose with his cheeky moniker, The Wild Hunt is, at its heart, a tragedy.

More from WCP