By James Blake
Kristian Matsson is a liar. Granted, its a bold claim to bestow upon a seemingly innocent Swedish singer-songwriter but his claims to be The Tallest Man on Earth are quite frankly fraudulent. How could the curator of delicately lilting acoustic folk that echoes the likes of Dylan and Bon Iver even dream of stealing the crown from current holder 8’3” (and apparently still growing) Sultan Kosen? What’s more, his third studio album There’s No Leaving Now bucks the trend of previous work and nomadic traditions of folk by settling down for five months and succumbing to multi track recording. Here’s hoping results are enough to gain some trust.
The opener to his apology, ‘Just to Throw Away’, instantly portrays a sense of growth. On the last album The Wild Hunt, vulnerability was a key theme with ‘Kids On The Run’ and ‘Love Is All’ providing direct transparency into artistry and emotion through primitive production techniques and rugged performance. Two years down the line things seems tighter, more concise as Matsson’s time in the studio has invited a more relaxed nature to his work. The presence of woodwind and additional picked guitar on the opener provide an ideal backdrop for a well worn vocal style to thrive. With these solid foundations his voice is given free reign to adopt the role of a story teller, dropping the responsibility of holding the listener’s attention with every word.
That’s not to say it doesn’t. Matsson’s raw and unashamedly unconventional tones welcome the challenge of a fuller sound, effortlessly cutting through with impeccable taste and timing across the album. ‘Revelation Blues’ allows the vocal to ride on a train like snare drum whilst preaching Matsson’s nature-based lyrical web, but lines like “The lesson is vague and the lightning shows a deer with her mind on the moor” in ’1904′ show this new found freedom encourages a little too much ambiguity. It is on more minimalistic tracks then, that the surprisingly soothing nasal quality of the vocal is most prolific. The title track features a simple piano accompaniment that personifies the artist’s ability to balance heart-wrenching passion and control, suggesting this stripped back approach is where Matsson is most comfortable.
With such a striking voice, it can be easy to undermine the level of musicianship which is, at times, equally as engaging as the vocal. The intricate picking woven between the calmest and most erratic reaches of Mattsson’s voice in ‘Leading Me Now’ and ‘On Every Page’ show how he earned comparisons to Nick Drake with the harmonious connection between chord progression and melody in ‘Wind And Walls’ being a strong nod to Fairport Convention.
There’s No Leaving Now is a positive progression in an artist who is quickly becoming one of the finest storytellers in the current crop of folk troubadours. That said, there is an air of comfort missing when he switches between acoustic and fuller tracks, it feels like Matsson needs to tame his excitement over this new found element. Do this, ‘Tallest man on Earth’ and your lies will be forgiven.