There’s an element of selfishness within music that is touched upon when an artist releases a new album, and while it is often selfishness with good intent, it can sometimes affect the way you might perceive said artist’s new release. That selfishness being that you don’t want the artist to have changed their sound from what it was that made you fall for their music.
This selfishness was rife in me when I heard initial murmurs on the internet about Kristian Matsson’s new album, There’s No Leaving Now, and the apparent change in his sound, a sound that has seen him labelled by some as the modern day Bob Dylan.
After his first two albums and two EPs, there was a genuine fear on my part that The Tallest Man on Earth might have opted to leave behind the simplistic and stripped down sound that he has so gracefully made his own, a fear that the one-man-and-his-guitar element might become overshadowed by a backing band. While this isn’t always a bad thing, you need only look at the reaction a certain Sam Beam got from his faithful when he changed Iron & Wine from being a largely one-piece musical act to include a band, electrified and, dare I say it, commercially viable. Not all Iron & Wine fans threw their toys out of the pram, and in some respects this decision to change the dynamics of his sound might have won Sam Beam some new fans, however the point I’m trying to make is that when a change that is so important to fans, one that directly affects their perception of an artist, comes around there are always going to be some casualties.
Those who are familiar with The Tallest Man’s music will be only too aware of the way that he conveys a comprehensive sound that could see him establish himself as one of the pivotal contemporary folk artists of our time. In previous releases, there has been a development within his sound, albeit a subtle one that might be expected as an artist progresses and matures their sound.
Eventually I thought it better to come face to face with my fears about the new album and resolved myself to sitting down and listening to the whole album from cover to cover, for lack of a better phrase. I’ll be honest, I was feeling a bit apprehensive about it as I’d already heard 1904 when it was released as a free download; at that point I thought there were the signs that told of a potential watering down of this man’s scratching vocals and frank guitar.
Those initial fears were soon put to bed and the further I waded into this new pool, the more I began to see that in some cases change is a good thing. While there are some songs that reflect the changes in his sound, there are, equally, some songs that are a throwback to the highlights of previous releases, Leading Me Now and Wind and Walls particularly.
Not to read too much into the Bob Dylan comparisons, but this album did strike me in so much as there came a moment in Dylan’s career when he changed from acoustic to electric, and that affected his sound and his following. Clearly there aren’t such musical prejudices within today’s folk genre as there was then, so the use of the electric guitar is no longer cause to make someone a pariah, but Matsson’s decision to make use of the electric guitar and a band on some songs could be seen in the same vein as a potential turning point in his career (not to say that he’s done badly up until now).
One of the songs that really caught my attention was Criminals, partly because of what’s mentioned above about the use of electric guitar, partly because it struck me as an amalgamation of what’s good in his music. It’s fair to say that Criminals isn’t the first Tallest Man song to be played solely on electric guitar, as The Dreamer also made use of the instrument (from the 2010 EP, Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird). Unlike The Dreamer and its focus on chords, Criminals gives a better account of Kristian Matsson’s finger picking ability. In a very immediate sense, it reflects the earlier point of it pulling together all that’s good about his music, and here comes that dusty old cliché, both the old and the new.
Personally though, the best song off the album is the title track, There’s No Leaving Now, which has followed on from the closer of the previous album, Kids on the Run from The Wild Hunt. Whilst I would like to think that the choice to have another piano track might be something to do with Mrs Matsson’s style of music (see Canary Bird by Idiot Wind), I doubt that’s the reason for the track’s being.
This album might not necessarily have all the folk-in-your-face gravitas that previous releases so clearly exhibited, but it’s certainly not any weaker for it. To loop back to the original point made in relation to changes with artist’s music and the fan’s want for it to stay about the same, this album has shown me that not all change should be considered a bad thing and that if anything this change is one of promise; Kristian Matsson has once again matured his sound, although this time it’s more audible. Whereas most artists’ albums that show significant change provoke strong reactions and can provoke a career flop, this album is a step in a promising and interesting direction.