The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now

A girl once broke up with me using lyrics by The Tallest Man On Earth. Deplorable on her part no doubt, but if you read that and could instantly understand how that would be fitting, without even knowing specifically what song, well, that’s the easiest way I can convey the feeling which his songs evoke. Basically, Kristian Matsson, the man behind the mask, gets it. He gets sadness, and his new release There’s No Leaving Now is tinged with an even greater melancholy than usual.
Sure he’s always written depressive songs, but something about this latest collection leaves everything a little clouded, without the silver lining of previous tunes. It’s an incredibly subtle change, granted, because there’s really little in the way of musicality it can be attributed to. You’d say it’s the same old Tallest Man, but the slightly furrowed brow which remains a few hours after listening assures you there was something else there.
The most notable reason for the change is that There’s No Leaving Now simply seems a lot calmer. Whatever fiery passion was previously driving Matsson to rush through his work, tumbling out too many words all in a heap before the end of a bar, has cooled. Although possibly unnoticeable until it’s changed, the slightest slowing of tempo is nonetheless and significant and very gratifying difference. Everything just seems a little more settled, not dulled but controlled, and it must simply bleed a little into the vibe of the songs, making them 
It’s also only a thematic difference, however, and technically The Tallest Man On Earth is as frenetic as ever. He’s probably the best finger picker of a six-string going around at the moment, and when he gets going on “Revelation Blues” and “Criminal”, his skill is engrossing without overpowering the songs. Neither though are songs left feeling incomplete, as the fast playing creates a fuller sound far beyond the gaps a single guitar should normally leave.
Inevitably, a note must be made of Matsson’s singing voice. He’s blessed with an ability to write meaningful verses, and in language which is metaphoric and pleasingly rhythmical, but depending on where you stand, his grainy warble ruins them in delivery. By no means pretty in a traditional sense, it’s at least unique and suited to his style. However, this comes with a condition that it has to actually be employed in his style. His singing can’t be faulted on “Wind and Walls”, where it’s padded by boisterous guitar, but “On Every Page” indulges his voice a little too much, and in combination with minimalistic strumming, it’s a bit of a struggle.
It’s an indication more generally that the second half is definitely the weaker of the album. It’s not necessarily forgettable, it will simply be revisited less than the hits which are towards the start, predominantly “To Just Grow Away” and the standout “1904”. These are too a problem though, as Matsson seems content to write singles, each with their own flashy wind down, rather than thinking big picture and transitioning tracks together nicely.
Which leaves There’s No Leaving Now a difficult album to call. As a whole, it’s disjointed, but as a collection of singles, there aren’t enough great hits. It’s technically competent playing-wise, even consistently far above average, which shouldn’t be a criticism except that there are just not enough standout moments for Matsson to hang his hat on. Yet, on that arbitrary line of good to bad, it’s never anywhere near the negative end of the scale. Why? Because the feeling achieved rather than anything that can actually be conveyed or critiqued in written words is so often makes a piece of music something above the rest. The Tallest Man On Earth manages that here is the subtlest of ways; a lasting feeling of melancholy so completely satisfying to an aching soul, that you’ll be drowning yourself in this record long beyond debates of how there’s nothing critically raising it beyond the mediocre.
by Jarryd Bendall

July 5th 2012
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