In 'Henry St,' The Tallest Man on Earth innovates but doesn't stun
Album: Henry St.
Artist: The Tallest Man on Earth
Genre: #AltCountry #IndieRock
Do you like the faint warbling of Some Guy with a guitar singing about some nebulous thing that's already lost? I sure do! I started listening to The Tallest Man on Earth because I really dig alt/folk songs that invoke love and death through plant-related metaphors. Too niche? Not really, honestly - there is a certain genre of guy that does this such that it's actually hard to find one that does it well (Hozier is certainly one of the most successful), and The Tallest Man on Earth, at his best, is right up at the top.
For those who might not know, The Tallest Man on Earth is actually one Swedish guy, Kristian Matsson, and he's actually 5'7". He started out ~12 years ago with "Shallow Grave," an absolute banger of an album - "The Gardener," the first single, is a tour-de-force of murder, failed love, and oddly specific gardening metaphors. His early albums are incredibly captivating in the way one guy with a guitar can be, reliably hitting a special blend of existential fear and gentle hope. I highly recommend checking these out!
Now is when I regretfully give you the hipster take on the new album, meaning: I think his newer stuff, now that he's more popular and has more resources to collaborate with other people, is less raw, and thus less compelling, than when he was just one guy with a guitar. It's embarrassing to say this! I am embarrassed to tell you that I think this album is mid at best! I don't even blame him for adding in an actual band to work with - you can't just be one guy with a guitar ad infinitum, and he's expanding and exploring with what he can do. I don't begrudge him these experiments. However, I can say that the result is mid.
It's not even the addition of all these extra instruments that bugs me; there's some good hooks here. There's some solid piano on "Looking for Love," my favorite track, that really elevates things, though it works a lot less in "Henry St.," the title track, which sounds like some guy at a piano bar (in a bad way). The fault is not with the wider scope of instruments used - it's with the lyrics and musical design. The lyrics are pretty boring here, with nothing to really sink your teeth into. And without that, which is definitely the hook to The Tallest Man on Earth as a thing worth listening to, this is just a paint-by-the-numbers folk album. It's not bad, but it's not good either. It's toothless and bland and pleasant, which would be fine if I hadn't heard previous albums.
If you've checked out this album and liked it, that rocks! Party on. I hope it inspires you to check out some of his earlier stuff, which is really, really great. There's one, maybe two pretty good songs on this one that do work pretty well. As for the rest? I hope The Tallest Man on Earth keeps experimenting, because I know he can do some really cool stuff with a lot less resources.
The Barr Brothers
Looking For Love
Reviewer’s Name: Adeene Denton
Date of Review: April 26, 2023