Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Tallest Man on Earth continues to forge beautiful folk melodies

In a game where indie musicians are continually trying to innovate, Kristian Matsson makes his fortune by turning back the hands of time. Better known as The Tallest Man on Earth, Matsson is forging out a legacy among the greatest names in folk history. His approach is very simple. No glitz or glamour here, The Tallest Man is just one guy with a guitar making music for your soul.

Matsson has been remarkably consistent over the course of his six year career, which has now hit another milestone with his third full length, There's No Leaving Now. It has a bit of that homespun sound like you were listening through an old phonograph.

The breathtaking melodies make it hard to not sing along, the acoustic finger picking is crisp and clear as ever, and Matsson's voice, while raw and sometimes scratchy, gives a very human vibe to it all.

Acoustic instruments are his weapon of choice, though he'll occasionally switch up. The lead in riff to album opener "To Just Grow Away" is backed by an acoustic rhythm while an electric guitar adds a mellow flourish over the top.

The most complex element is his lyrical themes. Taken literally, his lyrics seem to lack focus and don't even necessarily make sense, but the key is to focus on the big picture. Each song communicates an emotion or a specific set of imagery, so reading his lyrics is more akin to flipping through a picture book as opposed to reading a novel.

Lead single "1904" is packed full of references to the sun, earth, dirt trails, and wildlife. He begins to get a bit esoteric beyond that, but his voice clearly communicates the tone he wants to set, and the images are distinct enough to give each song a unique flavor. There are also songs that sound like they're directed to a specific person, but we don't get all the details about what's going on.

It's like hearing one side of a conversation, or hearing him reference some past event that the person he's addressing is familiar with, but the listener doesn't fully know what's going on. There's a certain beauty to this; it's much like passing a busy street and hearing snippets of conversations as you pass by. At any rate, Matsson certainly has a elegant and poetic way of putting things.

But it isn't all guitar based. The album's title track sees Matsson's voice backed by a piano instead of a six string. Of his many skills, his piano playing has picked up the most. "Kids on the Run," from his previous album The Wild Hunt felt like it had piano for piano's sake. But "There's No Leaving Now" feels much more natural. The chords, although simple, ring out with a majestic tone, which suits his voice perfectly here.

"Criminals," with its complex finger picking, is another gem, while album closer "On Every Page" features some of Matsson's most striking lyrics:

"I don't remember where I learned to die
but I'm humble for the rocks when I try
and somehow I am lowered onto the waves
and now with you I feel the sun and the salt on my face."

It's tough to say what his best album is because everything's so consistent, so figuring out what place There's No Leaving Now occupies within his catalog is no easy task. The best you'll likely do will be to just decide personal favorites. But this should be good news for appreciators of his previous work.

If you're looking to see him to branch out in new directions keep looking, but if you appreciate the mastery of Shallow Grave and The Wild Hunt then rejoice, because There's No Leaving Now easily stands in the pantheon beside them.

Score: 92/100

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