Beset by not-entirely-off-base Dylan comparisons since his debut dropped, Swedish folkie Kristian Matsson (stage name: The Tallest Man On Earth) is operating under the small-ish genre umbrella of indie folk, a lovely little haven where performers live and die by the strength of their songs, where rugged baritones and rambling napkin poetry are the order of the day, where boredom is uncomfortably easy to attain if you’re not careful. Fortunately for Matsson, he’s got the goods – “the goods”, in this case, being a way with a rambling, stream-of-consciousness lyric, a ragged and expressive vocal tone, and a bag of neat guitar tricks at his feet – and, as such, third album There’s No Leaving Now deserves your polite applause and passive admiration.
Which isn’t a backhanded way of saying that Matsson’s latest LP is boring, although if indie-folk isn’t a genre that holds your attention, yeah, totally run away; rather, it, like the rest of his records, is remarkably consistent, an autumn-ready platter full of pretty melodies, alternately finger-picked and strummed acoustic guitars, and winding, buoyant lyricism. Matsson, thus far, hasn’t proven himself an artist prone to experimentation; he lives proudly within his genre, and works almost exclusively with its raw materials. That said, There’s No Leaving Now introduces a few new wrinkles into the mix: pianos, drums, and bass lurk in the mix, never detracting from Mattson’s raw guy-with-a-guitar aesthetic, fleshing it out organically and with limited distraction. Indeed, while the shuffling “To Just Grow Away” and the intricately arpeggiated “Leading Me Now” are couched comfortably in Matsson’s familiar skill set, the title track – a slow-burn, raw-voiced piano ballad – feels like a new and fresh direction for the songwriter, and is one of his best songs to date.
Whether or not you’ll like any of this, I must stress, depends entirely on your tolerance for this genre; for some, Iron & Wine and M. Ward are the sole reason they can’t get down with indie music, and those folks are unlikely to hip to Matsson’s unpolished brand of unironic Dylan-by-way-of-Oberst style. If battered, finger-picked acoustics put you to sleep and raw, unconventional vocal tics grate your frayed nerve endings, The Tallest Man On Earth offers no repose. If the work of a consummate songwriter at the peak of his prowess turns your crank, no matter the medium, you’re in luck; “Bright Lanterns” and the heavenly “Revolution Blues” unspool line after line of lyrical gold, the pleasures of which are best left to experience (Matsson has yet to pen a lyric that doesn’t land, a fairly remarkable success rate).
Does The Tallest Man On Earth deviate from his tried and true formula? Not really, and while it remains to be seen if script-flipping is in Kristian Matsson’s future, for now it’s comfortable enough to relax in the soothing balm of his singular songwriting voice. Newbies should be directed to the self-titled 2008 debut, a record a lot like this one, but rawer and livelier and a bit more exciting; if you’ve liked a Tallest Man On Earth record once, however, it’s a virtual certainty that you’ll like him now. As Rateyourmusic reviewer SinsOfArcadia succinctly puts it: “6 years. 40 songs. 100% success rate. The Most Consistent Man On Earth.”
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