Album review: The Tallest Man on Earth stretches out subtly on ‘There’s No Leaving Now’

The Tallest Man on Earth
“There’s No Leaving Now”
Dead Oceans

On “There’s No Leaving Now,” Kristian Matsson, aka the Tallest Man Earth, makes it sonically clear that what you hear is what you get.

His voice may be eerily akin to that of a young Bob Dylan, but that’s where the comparison ends. You won’t find any songs with political statements or social critiques from Matsson.

Setting the album in motion, “To Just Grow Away” draws on jangling keyboards, muffled drums and acoustic guitar, which barely leave an imprint as Matsson’s somber voice takes up the rest of the space. The musical backdrop is befitting; his lyrics are never drowned out. The song seems to be about reaching contentment after a vague sense of struggle: “With a rain to help a river/But a river’s so hard to please/But I’ve grown to see the diamond/Thrown in just for me.”

Vague lyrics can have the tendency to be mundane at times, but Matsson makes them work without boring listeners. This may be because his lyrics are somewhere between poetry and traditional song structures. Whatever the combination, it’s appealing more often than not. “1904″ centers around a group of people who “shook the Earth in 1904″ without any further elaboration. “1904″ seems a bit more amplified, which is welcome amongst an album of muted acoustic guitars and soft accompaniment.

And even though there’s no immediate topical meaning, it’s hard to avoid singing along with Matsson’s pleasantly-nasal bridge: “And when the night is young but the bridge is sung/Something passing by I was sure/And the only one you can tell it to/Well, it’s the only one that ever knows.”

The Tallest Man on Earth exchanges his guitar for a piano on the album’s title track, a slower ballad that reminds listeners that Matsson doesn’t always sound like Bob Dylan — and that’s not a bad thing. His focus remains on a plateau of compromise between instrumentation and vocals, a balance Matsson handles so well.

As far as themes go, “There’s No Leaving Now” finds Matsson stuck in a kind of rut, notable when he sings, “Still you’re trying, but there’s no leaving now.” The tone strays from the dominant mood of the album, but it is a welcome diversion nonetheless.

Taken as a whole, “There’s No Leaving Now” is a sign of growth beyond Matsson’s 2010 release, “The Wild Hunt.” The open-tuned guitar picking is refined, Matsson’s voice is unwavering in tone, and while the instrumentation on the album may echo his previous recordings, the arrangements are executed well.

On “Bright Lanterns,” Matsson employs both acoustic and whistling, electric guitars that create a rich sound with a country and western subtlety. His imagery of “clear blue waking skies/And memories of gold on the run/Flying around” reinforce that sound. It is refreshing to hear just enough variation of styles on “There’s No Leaving Now.” As a result, the Tallest Man on Earth, measuring but 5′ 7″, is never overshadowed.

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