The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson has been releasing convincing slices of Americana for a few years now and keeps the changes subtle on third full length There’s No Leaving Now. The very nature of his work is deeply derivative by definition, but Matsson is also brilliant and delivers this stuff better than most of his American counterparts.
Armed with a voice that invokes classic US folk as much as Kurt Vile or Adam Granduciel, one of Matsson’s biggest developments on the album is employing more dynamic and dramatic choruses. About half of the tracks, including ‘Revelation Blues’ and ‘Criminals’, still use the casual final-line-as-melodic-hook structure of previous album The Wild Hunt, but there’s a greater emphasis on covering a wider vocal range and writing proper choruses with the soaring quality of ‘The Dreamer’ from the Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird EP.
The livelier tracks mostly fall to the front of the record with ‘To Just Grow Away’ and ‘Revelation Blues’ showcasing the new implementation of detailed arrangements. Most of the songs on The Wild Hunt could conceivably be played by one man, but the dual guitars and woodwind on the latter track suggest a full band without overwhelming the song. The light percussion leaves the guitar to fill most of the beat-keeping requirements and gives the illusion of the songs being simpler than they actually are.
First single to wash ashore from the album ‘1904’ brings Matsson’s emphasis on vocal agility in line with the kind of instinctive rhythmic prowess that made songs like ‘The Wild Hunt’ sound so (I’m going to do it) freewheeling. It’s a highlight, containing more life and energy than any other moment on the record. The piano ballad title track shows up next as There’s No Leaving Now enters a calmer stretch. This section is probably the biggest tightrope act of the album since The Tallest Man on Earth is based so heavily on recreating the past there’s always the risk that an excess of melodrama will come a’knockin’. But there’s something about the bite of even Matsson’s most sentimental performances that sidesteps pastiche unless you really want to find it there.
Lyrically There’s No Leaving Now has the same vague-yet-vivid approach of previous releases with specific details and references to people, places and events but without blatantly signposted context. The lack of clarity and Matsson’s preference for speaking in generalisations aid the kind of mythmaking he strives for, and as well as being a good lyricist he’s always been able to shape his words effectively around his melodies. Spare, finger-picked tracks ‘Little Brother’ and the closer ‘On Every Page’ constitute some of the album’s highlights with the simplest elements of The Tallest Man on Earth’s sound as poignant as before.
Despite the developments in songwriting There’s No Leaving Now isn’t necessarily, track for track, better than The Wild Hunt though it might be its equal. The richer arrangements sometimes call for clearer recording quality but much of the album is less spacious than its predecessor and its dynamics are more prone to clipping. It doesn’t cause significant damage but sometimes restricts the kind of vastness that the music suggests.
For an album that immediately hits you with its sound and style there are sufficient intricacies to make it a grower; Matsson’s casual melodies are meticulously tight and full of enough intricacy and inflection to develop with repeated listens. The additional drama in the performances may be taking the place of the raw simplicity and restlessness of previous releases, particularly Shallow Grave, but it’s not a bad direction for The Tallest Man on Earth to take. The fundamentals that made previous albums great are still here and the music no less evocative. Integral to the vitality of There’s No Leaving Now is the way that Matsson doesn’t play dumb to history but performs like it’s being written for the first time.