Kristian Matsson returns as The Tallest Man on Earth and his fifth LP. The Northern European folk howler is more laid back now. Does the change work? Well, I’m not sure, but the record is good.
Dead Oceans, 2012
8.2 / 10.0
I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. I wanted to rip The Tallest Man on Earth’s There’s No Leaving Now to shreds for being such a drastic change-up from the gravel-voiced, fingerpicking folkster that I known and loved for so long now. But, I somehow, I can’t bring myself to hate Kristian Matsson’s newest record as the Tallest Man on Earth. As a matter of fact, after spending a little more time with it I think it might be the best album he’s ever made. While some of the strength of his voice and amazing guitar playing is lessened by a full band approach coupled with a downright production barrage (as I like to say, he’s ‘Bon Iver’d’ it), they are still there. Furthermore, the new approach only seems to amplify the beautiful subtleties in Mattson’s songwriting. The sound you’ll find on There’s No Leaving Now puts Matsson somewhere closer to artists like AA Bondy and M Ward than anything you’ve heard from him before. But there isn’t any aping here. The songs are still undeniably his voice, and that is to his credit. To me, hating There’s No Leaving Now for being different from The Big Hunt would be the same as hating Dylan for making New Morning after John Wesley Harding; maybe vogue today, but something to be embarrassed about in retrospect.
The style of There’s No Leaving Now varies greatly as the record progresses; beginning with this new band approach until devolving to a more familiar solo approach on the second half of the record. Yet, even on those later songs, there are miles of difference between Matsson’s earlier work. Past the fuller production and new instruments, it seems that the man himself has changed. He is less willing to jump into the fray or come to conclusions. Much like Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” or Dylan’s “Man In Me”, it seems like this album is a statement of Matsson’s acceptance of and satisfaction with adulthood. His songs are more gentle now, less conclusive. Even with that greater appreciation of subtlety, Matsson doesn’t show any signs of slowing down musically. His guitar playing is still pristine, as shown by tracks like “1904″. Furthermore, his new experimentation provides the artist with more interesting musical options, like the mid-song change-ups on “Leading Me Now”. Throughout the affair, Matsson keeps a perfect mood for any Sunday morning. I think the single best addition is the use of piano on the title track. But, that requires a discussion unto itself.
The middle of this record has a one-two-three punch that is stronger than anything I’ve heard in a good, long time. From “There’s No Leaving Now”, to “Wind And Walls”, and concluding with “Little Brother”. I challenge any red-blooded human being to listen to these three tracks without having to fight tears. Any one of them could make a record. Together I think they aren’t just evidence that Matsson is one of the great ballad writers of this generation, but possibly of any generation. The beautiful interplay between the lone piano and Matsson’s voice on the title track is the single strongest moment of his career to date and executes in ways I have yet to fully understand. By the end of “Little Brother”, I find myself arguing why he isn’t just as good as Paul Williams in his heyday (“Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Old Fashioned Love Song”, “Rainbow Connection”). These are old-style ballads. The Tallest Man on Earth writes simply and directly, keeping them from sounding synthetic and making them accessible to anyone listening.
There’s No Leaving Now is not a perfect record. There is still room for Matsson to grow, particularly when it comes to the breadth of his songs. There is also that plague of hot recording on his voice that I once chalked up to bad headphones, but now think might be a calling card of his records. However, these items are miniscule when matched against the gargantuan power of Kristian Matsson’s simple songwriting. He has only improved with every record. The Tallest Man on Earth doesn’t need schtick to make his songs work, so why not stretch out the sound a bit? For those unaffiliated with Matsson, I argue that this is the record you should begin with. For old hat fans of the Tallest Man on Earth, I beg you to let There’s No Leaving Now grow on you. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
“There’s No Leaving Now”
“Wind & Walls”
Purchase The Tallest Man on Earth’s There’s No Leaving Now