Dead Oceans, 2012
Three and a half stars
But Dylan was a visionary: he got bored with the limitations of folk music and consciously tore them down a mere three years into his career. Figures like that only come along once or twice in any given musical generation, and Matsson clearly prescribes more to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. There's No Leaving Now is a blend of the propulsive folk of The Wild Hunt and the more gentle atmospherics of Passing Bird, and while Matsson does move to multi-tracking here in order to add a bit more sonic variation into the palette (the title track is a piano ballad, reminiscent of "Kids on the Run" from the last record, while accents of pedal steel drift through many of the album's best moments), almost any of these songs could have fit on his past albums. That's not entirely a bad thing, since most of them are really quite good, but some fans may be disappointed that Matsson doesn't take a few more chances this time around. That said, opener "To Just Grow Away" is a tremendous reminder of Matsson's talent, both as a songwriter and as one of the most distinctive vocalists of his age, and it's the perfect reintroduction to his brand of predictable but pleasing folk music. The song bursts with lush orchestration and melodic splendor, and carries within it a welcoming familiarity, something that even this record's weakest songs manage to hold.
When The Wild Hunt closed with "Kids on the Run," it was a revelatory left turn for a guy who mostly just played in his comfort zone. Matsson traded his acoustic guitar for an out-of-tune piano, but the imperfection didn't matter: he banged on the keys and delivered a power ballad, and for a moment, it sounded like The Tallest Man on Earth could be more than a reliably solid (but not terribly interesting) folk act. A similar thing happens this time around with the haunting "On Every Page," which gives Matsson's top-notch guitar work one of its best displays on record. The song sounds completely raw and real, like he just sat down in his bedroom, pushed record, and it on the spot, and it's got the same kind of entrancing, wisdom-laced vocal delivery that Dylan had in spades. Again, it makes me wonder if there's more to Matsson as a songwriter and a musician than he puts on his records, but the difference this time around is that the set of songs that precedes it isn't that great. Matsson has always come across as a fairly limited songwriter, but the songs on The Wild Hunt were good enough, and more notably, had enough life in them to overcome that fact. There's No Leaving Now has a lot of great moments, but it also meanders and drags through a series of compositions that, while not necessarily bad, don't really stick out. Perhaps it's the kind of album that needs to be heard in a certain environment, or one that requires the listener to be in a specific mood (when I listened to it on a sweltering late night drive, I fell in love with every note I heard), but on the whole, I just think Matsson's formula is beginning to get old. There's No Leaving Now is still a good album, and may even make it onto my year-end list, but for next time around, I hope Matsson takes a leaf out of Dylan's book and slashes the boundaries that are holding him back.