Kristian Matsson has always garnered comparisons with early Dylan, in part due to his raw vocal delivery but also his acoustic-driven folk-stylings and poetic illusions. So what has changed? Well…
‘There’s No Leaving Now’ is not Matsson’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, but it is his transitional record and a beautiful one at that. The first thing to strike you as the needle hits the groove is the modified sound. Both 2008’s ‘Shallow Grave‘ and 2010’s ‘The Wild Hunt‘ were acoustic guitar affairs with occasional shades of banjo, but the latest release is a new direction. Like Dylan, he’s ‘gone electric’. And not just electric either – most of these songs are augmented in some form.
The ‘Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird’ EP already hinted at a new soundscape evolving, and this album is a refreshing experience to hear Matsson’s wonderful songs finally accompanied for the first time. It’s not that the songs need the support, they would easily stand on their own, but on the whole the instrumental colours here add depth rather than distract from the material. It reveals rather than conceals. Adds to rather than subtracts or spoils.
‘To Just Grow Away’ opens the album conventionally enough, a traditional 6/8 swing on solo electric guitar like many a folk standard, but as the band enters the rhythm establishes a charming, rolling lilt. Matsson’s acoustic guitar acts as the foundation rather than as the lead allowing the electric to guide the song. The subtle drums encourage the song without ever intruding and the addition of understated electric keys is an almost elusive embellishment that is inspired in its restraint.
And restraint is the key word here. Although almost every song has been ornamented it is always unassuming, modest; a dash of lap steel guitar on ‘Bright Lanterns’ and ‘Wind and Walls’, a dab of clarinet delicately underpinning ‘Revelation Blues’, ‘Criminals’ picked on electric guitar.
It’s only ‘Leading Me Now’ and ‘On Every Page’ that he returns to the stripped guitar/vocal arrangement of his first two albums. The former is fuelled by a superb Nick Drake-style guitar figure but it’s the latter which is quite possibly the best track on the album.
It should be noted that Matsson’s songwriting has advanced greatly. His incisive lyrics are still littered with scorched images and shimmering metaphors and similes of lost love and heartbreak, but there is a maturity to his themes. And while the title track repeats the formula of ‘Kids on the Run’ from ‘The Wild Hunt‘ by unexpectedly switching to solo piano, the performance is much more convincing, more heartfelt.
And there are other influences evident; first single ‘1904’ has comparisons with Paul Simon. A gentle electric guitar line adding an ethereal ambiance to the familiar strum of Matsson’s acoustic guitar and over-spilling verses. It’s simply aching for an Art Garfunkel harmony.
The fact that this album does not conform to his previous work may create a divide amongst devotees of Matsson’s singer-songwriter style. It’s inevitable. But surely it’s better for an artist to experiment and to develop, expanding their palette of potential than to allow their muse to become stagnant. We should all applaud those that strive for something else. The album is a triumph. Bejewelled but uncluttered. The times are a-changing.
The Tallest Man on Earth just got a little taller.