The Tallest Man On Earth - There's No Leaving Now | Album Review | By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel
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The Tallest Man On Earth

There's No Leaving Now

A phenomenal album whose songs jump out of their own skin, and as a result, mean something.

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Author: on June 11, 2012
10
Dead Oceans
June 11, 2012

The best – the greatest – Kristian Matsson song will be yours. You will hear it shivering down you in its tiny, miniature chorus, and by the song’s front teeth it will grab you. It will be the song with that one line. Because for all Matsson’s great poetic and musical strengths – to write lyrics bizarre and inviting, and to play guitar with the same unravelling skill – what lies at the heart of a Tallest Man On Earth song is those words that each verse can never escape. For The Wild Hunt, my favourite song was “Thousand Ways,” half-way between jubilation and dismay as its aphorism met both in the eye: “but I’ll always be blamed for the sun going down with a song / but I’m the light at the middle of every man’s fall.” Matsson bellowed the first line; he softly sighed the second. The Wild Hunt was full of these moments, and wrapped its songs around them, like they were the only things that could unite the mythical, sad world that Matsson was writing about. The Wild Hunt had the imagery of someone reeling everything towards himself, a man talking about himself as he who walks upon the water like it’s easier than land, or the light at the middle of every man’s fall, and always somehow centred into his own awesome unwanted powers. Over and over again it was like hearing someone tell us what he didn’t want; “King of Spain” was reverse psychology.

On There’s No Leaving Now, I have another favourite aphorism amongst the storm, the one that makes me shiver a little: “come meet the criminals / of this Napoleon Reich.” I do not know what it means, because what the fuck is there to say about these lyrics beyond what Matsson has written? Do we talk about beauty? That’s inherent. Matsson’s ability to tie his imagery back to this little phrase is that staggering, that overwhelming, that it probably makes him one of the best chorus writers in history. It’s so sharply emoted, in words and in the warbling pitch of his voice that he is able to compound feelings it would have taken other musicians an album to express. Matsson shows so much care in his lyrics in writing them, in singing them, and playing around them, that nothing hits harder than when he adds these devastating synopses to them.

Illustration by Chris Harrop.

And I want to talk about Bob Dylan. I do. He wrote the book on aphorisms. I don’t care what reasons we’re defending Matsson from Dylan with anymore – like it was ever a bad thing to be the next generation hopeful, or just a beautiful songwriter. Forget it. Forget the refusal to accept the cyclical nature of their songs; forget the mythological, critique-defying lyrics about banal everythings; the voice, lord, forget the voice. What now connects Kristian Matsson to Bob Dylan is what is most essential to him, the same thing that connects him to the repeating of a Beach House album or the slow-burning of Galaxie 500’s On Fire. It’s the same thing that makes him the complete fucking opposite of Radiohead: Kristian Matsson is a songwriter. He is not a song conceiver, in the same way Dylan never put a concept forward before he wrote the song under it. Seasons of change be damned, Dylan may have had his moments – going electric, which seems more a biopic fantasy than anything – but so did Matsson last year with “The Dreamer.” And I don’t need to tell you that nothing changed in his music; this is still an instinctive composer who focuses on each song like it is a bullet that will hit and hit forever. It’s the abrupt plucking of “You’re Leading Me Now,” too, that is expression: Matsson knows all too well that a song has to jump out of its own skin to mean something.

While there’ll always be this meaning behind Matsson’s music, it remains forever under his custody. This man has always been protective of his work and as Cam Wilson of Sputnikmusic noted, he seems to be “writing for himself” and releasing his music “because it’s too damn good.” I will never fully understand “Bright Lanterns” and its gorgeous, pastoral symbolism; Matsson seems protective of this imagined conversation between two lights. Once again, it seems the insight is in the conclusion, the ain’t-that-the-way-it-goes acceptance with which he coos “damn, you always treat me like a stranger, mountain.” It might be the greatest joy we can attribute to the man’s music. In this moment, There’s No Leaving Now feels deeply like an album of acceptance, one attributed to the heavy-sighed announcement of its title and its weary book-end. But Matsson’s metaphors are never distinct, never pull another person towards us – it’s always a mountain or a cold wind, sweeping figureheads for big burdens. There’s No Leaving Now, as similar as it may be to Shallow Grave and The Wild Hunt, is a complex puzzle that can resonate with us even with all its pieces out of place. That’s another thing Dylan was pretty good at, hey?

The puzzle never does get solved. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, the aforementioned Beach House were asked about change in music, and why we all have a craving for them to do so, Alex Scally couldn’t help but say: “Sometimes, I feel like people aren’t even listening to our songs, they’re just listening to the sound.” And I understand that Dylan changed, but not because he wanted to change; like Scally, he just didn’t want people to crave after him. But Dylan’s music never once became conceived, and Matsson has never been conceptual. When we compare his work to an early Dylan, we are recognising the knack he had for singleness, to write a love song like “Ballad in Plain D” to be its own, unravelling story, one of many, or to write a protest song identical to another with a radical, uproarious meaning. We compare these musicians because their music is endless, whether thirty albums past the ‘60s or three albums into this new faceless century. The Tallest Man On Earth has the feel about him that he will release another twenty records like these three, and that they will all be the same; focused around writing a song that he could have written at any point, with no more than a little line to walk back ‘round. We will all have our own favourite. None of us will argue.

So I guess this is all far less than a review. It’s a prediction of a man I hope becomes steeped in his own legacy, but only on the basis of this glowing, liberating new record. And in two weeks, he’ll play these songs at the same festival our famed folk hero will be headlining in yet another moment in the long historical narrative of his life. Why are these biopics never perfect? Because they never speak louder than a song for him. “I’m Not There” really tried to tackle the songs rather than the man, to treat Bob Dylan’s life as a book of poems. Now I am doing the same to Matsson, seeking to understand his proud aphorisms, or his tumbling lyrical vignettes. Trying to detangle myself from music I know will be endless, if it ends here or if it goes ‘til 2050. That line in “Criminals” again? I haven’t a clue. It’s beautiful, though.

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