Review Summary: His consistency is becoming a little frightening.
I'm starting to get a little bit worried about my relationship with Kristian Matsson's music. It reminds me of being 14 and hearing Amnesiac
for the first time, and getting that sinking feeling when you realize that a previously impervious artist, one that you thought were incapable of doing anything bad, had it in them to be mediocre.
It's stupid to ever believe that somebody can't possibly write a bad song, obviously, but Matsson makes it really, really hard not to fall into that trap - across three albums and two EPs, not only is he yet to write a bad song, he hasn't even done anything to hint that there's any badness in there, any chink in his armour. His track record is literally impeccable. I'm not really sure how I'll react when he finally does record that elusive average song. I'm also not really sure it'll ever happen.
It's not even just about the songs, though, magnificent as they generally are. Truth is, even brilliant songcraft alone gets boring without any focus on the sound behind it; the references to Bob Dylan are starting to get tiring in The Tallest Man on Earth reviews, but he's a great case in point here, because there's no way he'd enjoy the legacy he does now if he hadn't moved away from folk into the areas of Highway 61 Revisited, Nashville Skyline, Blood on the Tracks
, and eventually Time Out of Mind
. Ditto Bruce Springsteen, who moved through Born to Run, Born in the USA
, and Nebraska
, among others. Matsson is yet to make a switch as dramatic as any of that, but he has nailed a sweet spot between giving your fans what they want and introducing them to new things more impressively than just about anybody currently making music. It's all in the subtlety and the grace with which new influences are introduced - "There's No Leaving Now" carries a slight air of Coldplay's Parachutes
about it, "1904" uses a lead guitar tone that threatens to break out into The Cure's "Close To Me", and "Leading Me Now" has some fingerpicking that sounds a lot like the kind of patterns Lyndsey Buckingham has employed throughout the second half of his career, but they incorporated into songs that sound like nobody but The Tallest Man on Earth.
For a guy that has generally had to deal with people viewing him as an artist totally in thrall to his influences - even the people that like him have rarely treated his music as anything especially unique - that's a real achievement, and it's one that's come without Matsson needing to jump up and down and make a show of it, like a lot of artists in his position do. It's another layer on that sheen of perfection that seems to illuminate everything he does; There's No Leaving Now
is an album that begs to be picked apart, but that can't be picked at
, and it's tempting to say that this is what all high-minded singer/songwriters are ultimately aiming for. Even if it's not, it's tough to deny that Kristian Matsson is now way up in the highest echelons of the genre, and only a significant mainstream breakthrough, like Elliott Smith's on Good Will Hunting
, is stopping his name from being included in every list and every canon there is for singer/songwriters.