The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving NowPosted by Sam Parker
Kristian Matsson is an apt student. The man behind The Tallest Man on Earth has studied hard at the self-taught school of American folk tradition, incorporating his lessons – ornate finger-picked guitar and a ragged voice that can howl and croon with equal aplomb – into his music with a ramshackle skill.
He also displays a keen understanding of the more intangible elements of the folk tradition – not just folk music, but folklore itself. Our love for enigmatic figures that skirt the boundaries of myth (See Johnny Appleseed, Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan) is well documented, and Matsson has crafted a persona right down to his moniker that fits comfortably between these figures. In “Love is All”, one of the highlights of 2010’s The Wild Hunt, he emerges as a vagabond drifter, armed with only a guitar and his voice, hunted and haunted by both what he’s done and the possibility of redemption. When Matsson sings, “I bet this mighty river’s both my savior and my sin/Oh, my savior and my sin,” you’re mesmerized, unsure if he’s here to cleanse himself or to drown.
On There’s No Leaving Now, Matsson tweaks his approach, both in terms of music and myth. The new album takes a few steps away from the former skin-and-bones approach, with Matsson fleshing out his sound with multi-tracked guitars, drums and other assorted instruments. While the songs themselves are more lush and rich, there’s a sense of something lost as well – a dilution of feeling that commanded your attention in past albums. The raggedy troubadour of Matsson’s previous albums seems more content now, more pre-disposed to travel down paths without worrying whose watching or listening.
But oh, those paths are as idyllic as ever. “1904” flows like one of the rivers that Matsson is so fond of mentioning through a pastoral scene – it evokes, more than anything, being content to be on a road less traveled. One can almost envision the sepia-tones now, full of John Muir bearded types, harkening back to an era that only ever existed in our hearts.
“Wind and Walls” takes a similar tone, with guitars skimming over the surface of the song, anchored by Matsson’s tender vocals. Here, Matsson seems to have come full circle, singing of his prior misadventures: “Singing songs of rivers tied to accidents within/and telling people lies of lions, treasures and kings/nothing’s more revealing than the dancer and the doubt/waving to forget what’s never gone, always there, never right,” before concluding with “and you know they’re always following me/I’ll be best when the silence comes.” The drifter’s demons are still chasing him, but there’s a resignation there, an acceptance of that fact that brings some relief.
That feeling of acceptance is what colors the entirety of the album, and while that’s good news for the characters in this collection of songs, it’s a loss for the listener. Matsson’s music is as starkly beautiful as ever, but the urgency of the music has been dulled – the album seems more content to see where the wind takes it than to lead us in any direction. Where The Wild Hunt was full of characters willing to bear their anguish and defiance into the darkness, There’s No Leaving Now is more content to fade into the night – gently, beautifully and without much fuss at all.