After three full-lengths and two EPs as The Tallest Man On Earth, Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson has become the AC/DC of indie-folk. His simple, straight-ahead formula is rooted in full-throated, caustic vocals and furiously strummed guitars, and he hardly ever wavers from it. Thus far, he hasn’t needed to: 2010’s The Wild Hunt was Matsson’s best release yet, wringing the maximum amount of power of out threadbare instrumentation that was as uplifting and super-charged as any rock band. The transitional EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird expanded the musical palette just a smidge, adding a trace of electric guitar to the mix. Matsson employs more (though still not much) instrumental shadings to his heart-rending songs on There’s No Leaving Now, though he’s still riding mostly on the quality of his songs and the spunk of his performances.
And, again, this ends up being enough, though there are signs that Matsson’s recipe is beginning to wear just a bit thin. A lyrical electric guitar accompanies him on most tracks, perfectly complementing his straining, emotional vocal on “To Just Grow Away” and the sparkling “Criminals.” These songs do nothing to discourage the obvious Dylan comparisons Matsson has long garnered; in fact, they sound directly inspired by the illusionary folk tracks from side two of Bringing It All Back Home, which spotlighted the tremendous guitar-work of Bruce Langhorne. But where Dylan was exploding his songwriting in a thrilling new direction, Matsson has burrowed in and fortified his strengths.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to the austere title track, an emotive piano ballad reminiscent of The Wild Hunt standout “Kids On The Run.” But when Matsson tempers the abrasiveness of his voice and settles into the album’s mildest, poppiest tracks, like the pleasant-but-dull “Bright Lanterns,” There’s No Leaving Now feels a bit like treading water. Despite his limitations, Matsson remains an engagingly direct singer-songwriter unafraid to get straight to the heart of the matter, a refreshing change of pace as his contemporaries pile on layers of abstract atmospherics. He could just stand to find a new way to get there.