The Squeezebox: Tallest Man on Earth- The Wild Hunt (2010)

22 12 2010

By Zan de Parry, contributing writer

You know that feeling when you swallow a gorilla’s handful of tacks but need to speak tenderly to your girlfriend? When you have to make beauty of your throat’s bleeding scratchiness? Neither do I. But I think the Tallest Man on Earth does. His voice goes from punching a hollow mahhole cover to dragging metal cleats across sandpaper. It’s dangerous but exhibits itself comfortably. His melodies are consistent and warily tranquil; they evolve and dance but seem to settle safely in a catchy home. His voice resembles Bob Dylan after parachuting cayenne powder. The Wild Hunt is a truly special album.

And as much as I belabor his voice as the album’s signifier, I’m relinquishing the human ear and mind’s abilities to understand sound if I stop there.  It’s not just his voice but his fingers finding and pulling guitar strings emotionally, his soft muffled foot clomping rhythm behind the pulling, his ecstatic and poignant intonations, his at times beautifully ambiguous diction. The track “Love Is All” exemplifies these qualities. His fingers punctually strengthen and weaken the guitar sounds to support singing of “love [being] all” yet only “from what [he’s] heard”. The song continues in this vein of love’s rules and how they’re broken, undermined, ignored, or pointless. The track is portable in its catchiness and bucolic in its simplicity. It’s a window into the softer items of the album’s guts.

And purdy guts they are, but not completely filled with warmth. His optimism balances well with uncertainty in tracks like “Troubles Will Be Gone” and the title track, or maybe he’s optimistic about uncertainty… Not entirely sure, leading me to advocate the dark adversary of my brown-nosing thus far: what do his lyrics mean sometimes? Are they too ambiguous? He’s Swedish; does this ESL about him make some meanings difficult to adhere to? I study a little French, is “J’étais les premières chaussures de mon coeur” poetic or just haphazardly understood by me and regurgitated?

These are questions to grapple with and, considering I’ve already written enough to probably disengage most visions, for another bacchanalian roundtable.
I don’t believe his foreignness lessens the value of his diction; it’s my brain that decides whether he seems genuine, regardless if he is. But I think he is. And I think his guitar twangs and vibrates with human pulse and reality. When his fingers grace the banjo and piano, the sounds parlay these feelings as well. He has a brilliant rapport with the English language, in my opinion, and stretches images from the mind to the yard. The Tallest Man on Earth, or Kristian Matsson, is unmistakable. The Wild Hunt is a must listen.

When not feeding suckling pigs on his inorganic farm, Zan de Parry wastes his days chasing overweight jezebels through the mishmosh of neighborhood gardens.


The Squeeze box: Blockhead – Downtown Science (2005)

21 12 2010

Most underground hip hop fans probably know Blockhead as Aesop Rock’s favorite producer. Downtown Science sounds very different from any Aesop produced track, however. The familiar use of orchestral samples is still present but more restrained, and in many cases has been replaced by more electric sounding guitars. Blockhead uses a lot of strange sounds that come and go at a moments notice, but every song still has a solid foundation for this schizophrenic sense to work within.

Released in 2005 Downtown Science succeeds where many others have failed. Instead of trying to repeat the formula of his predecessors in instrumental hip hop from the mid 1990’s, Blockhead has his own unique style. This is a huge improvement over his previous effort 2004’s Music by Cave light. While that album sounds like a few gems drowning in a sea of boring mediocrity, these songs are multi-layered arrangements that reward repeated listens. The album starts with “Expiration Date” which uses a simple sample and heaving pounding drums. This is followed by the standout track “Roll Out the Red Carpet” which sounds like an updated science fiction version of Miles Davis. “Cherry Picker” “Good Block, Bad Block” and “Quite Storm” all continue the understated fragmented melodies and add to the album’s cohesiveness. The one exception is “The Art of Walking” where Blockhead takes a light-hearted detour into an homage to 70s funk.

What sets Science apart from a lot of modern day hip hop is Blockhead’s understanding of sped up soul samples. Often times these are used as the focal point of songs and end up making them sound whiny and annoying. In this case though, they are chopped up and pop in and out of the melodies instead of overwhelming them. Blockhead basically treats them like another instrument and this adds to the texture of the songs in a very enjoyable way. This album is probably not for everyone, but it deserves recognition for it’s originality. Fans of Cannibal Ox’s Iron Galaxy and Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus should find it enjoyable. 8/10


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