Album Review: The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

[Dead Oceans; 2012]

Since the release of the first Tallest Man On Earth LP in 2006, Kristian Matsson has carved out quite the niche within the indie music world. Indisputably, he’s been boxed in as “indie’s Bob Dylan.” The fault for this lies with Matsson, as even 2010’s Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird EP employs more than its fair share of Dylanisms. While it made for some fascinating and enjoyable music, eventually Matsson – like so many Dylan spawned artists – would either have to develop his sound further or risk fading into irrelevance. This is the very crossroads we find ourselves at with There’s No Leaving Now.

The most immediate quality of There’s No Leaving Now is how vastly improved Matsson has become as a vocalist. His vocals are still raspy, but he sings with much more conviction and finesse than on any previous record. His range has also expanded considerably. Those who have seen Matsson’s live show have long known he was capable of such supercharged vocals, but he’s only now allowing himself to cut loose in the studio. This development is evident on the title track where Matsson cries, “To see through a fearless eye and know that danger finally goes away/ still you’re trying but there’s no leaving now.”

Still, the far more significant development is the quality of the songwriting. In a genre that is stripped down, bare, and honest, there’s little a folk artist can do to cover up for deficiencies in their craft. There’s No Leaving Now is the record of an artist with nothing to cover up. Matsson’s guitar playing holds up against folk musicians of any era, and while he has written dynamic tunes before, this album finds no shortage of well thought out and structured songs. At its very beginning, “Revelation Blues” sounds like it’ll be a simple folk number, but quickly builds into some truly sweet and understated pop. Matsson’s matches the music with some of his strongest lyrics, “When your talent is in numbers of the many times you’re gone/ I could lie I don’t care about forgiving but sometimes it’s just roses dying too young.” “Criminals” on the other hand sounds like something that came out of Laurel Canyon with its striking plucked guitar.

But the clear standout is “1904.” The electric guitar that’s sprinkled over the track is relatively recent development in The Tallest Man On Earth’s discography, and here it acts as the heartbeat. It’s one of the many small touches that make the song such a glorious success. Where Matsson’s voice builds into a roar as he sings, “As one rock was made to go through my window,” his guitar ramps up to match it. All these little effects are played to perfection, making the song the best in Matsson’s entire catalog.

No one is going to confuse There’s No Leaving Now for a revelation, but those who’ve followed Kristian Matsson since his arrival know how much his music has changed. He always seemed more world-weary than his peers, but now after circling the globe on his endless tours he has the experience to match. There’s No Leaving Now is his step out of Dylan’s shadow, his Born To Run. While still rooted in Dylan’s folk aesthetic, the music Matsson writes now is uniquely his voice. Furthermore, There’s No Leaving Now is one of the best albums of the year.