It takes a lot to stand out with just a voice and an acoustic guitar; to grab a listener’s undivided attention with only a song’s barest essentials. Performing as The Tallest Man on Earth, Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson has commanded stages in front of tens of thousands of fans at a time, often backed by no one at all. If you’ve seen his Tiny Desk concert from 2009, you know he barely even needs amplification.
Matsson’s newest project is an EP titled When the Bird Sees the Solid Ground, and he’s rolling it out in a fashion that’s both novel — it’s getting released in five installments, one song at a time — and perfectly appropriate to the way he writes songs and seeks to connect with his fans. The performance of “Somewhere in the Mountains, Somewhere in New York” at the top of this page is book-ended by segments in which Matsson speaks directly into a camera, describing how the song came together. It’s like receiving a video message from a friend who wants you to see his process unfold in real time, the more ragged the better.
Of course, for all his stated love of imperfections, Matsson’s actual performance is a thing of refined and impeccable beauty: A dreamily melancholy wonder, “Somewhere in the Mountains, Somewhere in New York” works equally well played or as a more finely crafted studio recording. (You can hear the latter below.)
“For most of my career, I’ve written songs and saved them up in notebooks and voice memos,” Matsson writes via email. “I’d record some of those songs, and then wait a half a year for them to be released. It all seemed very separate and compartmentalized, and that’s always struck me as a bit unnatural. Even though they were abstract and maybe naive, they came from reacting to things happening around me in the moment.
“Of course, what those moments are change as we get older and so does how we process them. ‘Somewhere in the Mountains, Somewhere in New York’ is about learning more and more about gratitude for positive things in life, big and small, and how to accept life’s changing nature — to snap out of fear of change and new challenges. But there are moments when being reasonable is not on the map; ‘I don’t want this to happen, please.’ This is a song that is a snapshot of a moment like that, and was written and recorded in just a couple of hours.”
When the Bird Sees the Solid Ground is coming out one song at a time, released each month via AWAL/Kobalt. “An Ocean” came out in March, “Somewhere in the Mountains, Somewhere in New York” is out today, and three more will follow in the months to come.