Most singer-songwriters who play with an acoustic guitar are probably aiming for an esteemed and generous comparison to one of their contemporaries – like Bob Dylan – but few actually deserve it. In the majority of cases Dylan’s name is used out of sheer laziness, or perhaps just to be nice; nothing says “you play mildly interesting acoustic music with a lilt in your voice” like saying something is “Dylan-esque”. Kalle Mattson has obviously managed to wriggle a few quick reviews from music journalists who can’t be bothered to find a more specific reference point. (Either that or they’re just being pleasant.) And instead of taking this comparison to the seventy-year old pioneer with modesty, Mattson (or at least his press team) seem to want to make this the main point of reference for when you hear the Canadian’s name.
Fair play to him, though: if you’re going to boast a style that’s “Dylan-esque” then it helps when you make every effort to sound like him. On “Someday”, the opening track to Mattson’s Lives In Between EP, he fingerpicks his guitar while piping away at his harmonica; it’s almost like an act at a Dylan tribute night. It’s easy to sound condescending, but the comparison is pretty inevitable, although, on this EP of in-between tracks, you could forgive Mattson for just having a go at playing to his expectations. When he does, he produces songs that are equally as unlikely to offend as they are to astound.
The results can still be nice: “Sun Is Gone” plays like The Boy Least Likely To with bigger acoustic chords and plenty of jaunty horns; the whirring guitars and the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-like bass line on the outro to “The Shore”; the Beirut-esque horn outro on “Water Falls”; and even though “Someday” might seem like bland imitation, it does have an innocuous charm to it. The word “nice” might seem lazy, but Mattson’s music is the kind that warrants it. It’s the kind of stuff that your Mum would say to keep on, should it ever come up on shuffle on your iPod when she’s around. It’s relatively easy listening for the most part, and even when it stirs things up it keeps itself on the straight and narrow. “The Shore” has Mattson muffling his voice for the verses, but come the choruses he’s back in plain sight, whereas on bonus track “Palm Sunday” he brings out the heavy(ish) distorted guitars, but still sounds like he’s making a playful homage to punk-rock, than actually stepping outside the barriers.
And while the “niceness” might seem obvious as a limitation here, the tracks have downfalls within themselves, too. One of the main problems is that ideas seem spread out, and instead of concise tracks, they feel like they’re milking the moment. Take “Sun Is Gone”, which should get by with its aforementioned brasswork, but also includes a multi-tracked vocal coda of Mattson ba-ba-ing to himself. It’s not bad per se, but it just feels like an attempt to keep the listener in for as long as possible instead of riding the song’s natural ebb and flow. The majority of the other tracks are just as guilty of lingering that bit too long: while the instrumental outro on “The Shore” might be its most appealing feature, it could probably be shortened whereas “Miles In Between” and “Water Falls” repeat their vocal hooks over and over, like they hold more meaning than they actually do. Sound wise, the EP is generally perfectly lovely (again, in the way your Mum will like), making for an equal amount of surprising moments (the warming organ on “Miles In Between”) and ones that are just plain old iffy (the lazy Bonnie “Prince” Billy imitating backing vocalist on “Someday”). Much like the title might suggest, the EP might just be an in between point for Mattson, who got a few better results with his 2011 album Anchors, so he may well be getting ready to serve up a better selection of material with his next full-length. Perhaps next time he’ll do that bit more to actually warrant the Dylan comparison rather than just simple imitation.