The Tallest Man on Earth

There’s No Leaving Now

Dead Oceans

Aug 08, 2012 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Is there any more rightly despised genre of music than singer/songwriter? For most listeners, the very mention of the genre brings to mind some awful hours spent trapped in a college coffee shop, trying to stomach the "great new singer" a significant other is obsessed with. Too often, the genre is populated by earnest musicians who lack a good voice, good lyrics, interesting instrumentation, or some combination of the three. Above all, singer/songwriters are...well, they're usually boring. There's only so much a lonely guy/girl with a guitar can do.

Which is why it would make sense if you approach The Tallest Man on Earth with some trepidation. It's literally just one guy and his guitar (well, at least mostly). As the project of Swede Kristian Matsson, The Tallest Man on Earth could be the most boring, innocuous music on Earth (no pun intended).

Except, it's not.

Matsson's singer/songwriter schtick has much more in common with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Pete Seeger than the wannabe-troubadour playing at the Java Pit down the street. His reedy, strained voice brings a drama to his music that many singer/songwriters just can't match. And his music tends to be propulsive even though it's largely acoustic and without drumsthink the early acoustic music of Dylan, which was so dramatic it was the opposite of boring. Matsson's lyrics, much like the words of those he clearly idolizes, uses snatches of vivid imagery, clever turns-of-phrase, and devastating, world-weary observations.

Matsson's newest, There's No Leaving Now, is his third full-length as The Tallest Man on Earth, and also his most expansive. Though his palette is by no means expansive, he's moved beyond a solo acoustic sound to some keyboards and electric guitar. But make no mistakethe sound is all Matsson, still firmly entrenched in the American folk tradition. "Revelation Blues" only uses an electric guitar to complement the chugging, acoustic rhythm with cascading chords that work perfectly for a song about tarnished love.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Matsson's music and the music of his forbearers is that it's not political or even an attempt to provide a narrative to a voiceless people or generation. Most of his songs explore an internal emotional struggle or a relationship of some sort, even if they don't take place in this century ("1904") or center around an anachronism (the mention of horses in "Leading Me Now").

Most of the songs also make use of the casually devastating power of folk music. Even though the lyrics aren't that sad, there's something haunting about the steel guitar on "Bright Lanterns," and if the piano-led title track doesn't make you at least a little pensive, you might not have a heart.

Overall, There's No Leaving Now is a cohesive, wonderful album. It's not particularly groundbreaking if you've heard any of Matsson's previous work under the name-but that's not such a bad thing when it's this reliably good. It's comforting to know there are still artists committing to redeeming the concept of the singer/songwriter. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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