One of the most fascinating things about Kristian Matsson is how he’s able to take very familiar folk sounds and turn them into something that seems fresh and exciting. His first two albums as The Tallest Man on Earth were built solely on his raspy vocal and either an acoustic guitar or a piano. The songs are also almost entirely home recorded outside of a traditional studio, giving them an additional ramshackle quality that speaks well to Bob Dylan’s earliest material. Matsson is from Sweden, but he uses and reveres classic American folk as his template. His last full length The Wild Hunt was very propulsive and catchy, with an emotional core that often made you feel like the man was playing as if his life depended on it. Just listening to him wail on “You’re Going Back” or “King of Spain” either sucked you in completely or left you out in the cold, as his abrasive yet heartfelt vocal isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. On his third long player There’s No Leaving Now, the gears have slightly changed (or evolved, if you will) for The Tallest Man on Earth. The music still retains that slightly gritty, home recorded quality, however Matsson plays around with multi-tracking a little, creating fuller arrangements with more instruments. “Revelation Blues” is where the extra bits are most evident – a lightly brushed snare drum along with small flourishes of piano and woodwinds compliment the main melody strung together by a carefully picked guitar. Other than that, only the occasional slide guitar on top of an acoustic is an indicator there’s more instrumentation than usual. The alt-country quiet of “Bright Lanterns” is probably where that’s implemented best. Outside of the guitar-driven tracks, the title track differentiates itself simply by being a piano-centered ballad in the same vein of “Kids on the Run” from the last record. Matsson does an excellent job wrenching the sadness out of the song. Such powerful displays of emotion were some of The Wild Hunt‘s strongest points. There’s No Leaving Now loses some of that primarily due to more languid and relaxed melodies where the vocals don’t require so many acrobatics. The album’s two most energized songs “1904” and “Wind and Walls” are also two of its best, even though their lyrics don’t entirely make sense. It’s the way he sings lines like, “But the lesson is vague and the lightning shows a deer with her mind on the moor/and now something with the sun is just different/since they shook the earth in 1904,” that somehow makes them seem far more coherent than they appear when written down. Still, not everything on the record is so convincing or vibrant, as songs like “Leading Me Now” and “Little Brother” breeze past pleasantly but forgettably too. Matsson can and has done better work than this, and three albums in it might be time to start asking if his particular troubadour brand of folk is wearing a bit thin. It’s nice to hear him spreading his wings just a little and fleshing out some of the tracks a bit more, but it means very little in the end if the songs aren’t worthy of that expansion. Ironically, There’s No Leaving Now often comes off like Matsson has gone away on vacation, perhaps to the beach depicted on the album cover. Wonderful as it can be to take some time for yourself and forget about your troubles, it’s no way to live. Sooner or later the world will come find you. Let’s hope for the next album that The Tallest Man on Earth pulls his head out of the clouds and reconnects with the emotions and excitement that made his earlier records so vital and fascinating.
The Tallest Man on Earth – 1904