NoLeavingNowcover.jpgTHE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH: There’s No Leaving Now
Dead Oceans, 39 minutes 

Rating: 3/5

The Tallest Man On Earth, born Kristian Matsson, gives interviews infrequently. One could say he lets the music speak for itself, which seemed appropriate when it was more verbose; his lyrics unspooled apocalyptic visions (“It Will Follow the Rain”) and regurgitated history (“Walk the Line”) on his self-titled debut EP (2006) to great effect. Since then he's gotten a little gentler and a little simpler with each release – less baked, more Nick Drake.

Matsson’s third album There’s No Leaving Now is his simplest and gentlest yet, natch. When The Wild Hunt (2010) ended with the haunting piano ballad “Kids On the Run,” it suggested a step beyond solo acoustic tunes, yet only a couple tracks here (opener “To Just Grow Away,” “There’s No Leaving Now”) feature much beyond Matsson alone with his guitar. Far be it from me to suggest he write songs any other way, but one of the most exciting folk voices of his generation is getting more and more ... not boring, exactly, but predictable.

Maybe it’s just domestic bliss. Matsson has been married to fellow singer-songwriter Amanda Bergman for several years now, and Lord knows a promising career and a partner in crime can mellow a man out. Matsson covers that relationship excellently on “There’s No Leaving Now,” but the further the songs get from that central point, with only the vaguest warm sentiments guiding them, the less they live up to his odder, better early material.

metric-synthetica-250x250.jpgMETRIC: Synthetica
MMI, 43 minutes
Rating: 4/5

In the years since Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? (2003) Metric have survived the rise and fall of dance-rock, the short-lived post-punk revival, and the decline of indie rock into its current catatonic state. But their longevity has less to do with staying one step ahead of genre trends, and almost everything to do with their writing songs people actually want to hear, without compromising their intelligence. It’s a formula so simple it’s shocking how few bands in a generation are able to master it: pop formula meets big ideas. Catchy singles about Darwinian evolution. You get the idea.

Following what I consider to be their strongest record, 2009’s Fantasies, Synthetica has a lot to live up to. While it doesn’t match the immediate thrill of that album it offers a gloriously-produced counterpart. This is music for jogging in the sun, not trolling through the night.

Lacking obvious singles (the Marilyn Manson-copping “Youth Without Youth” is a draw, and the album’s weakest song) it may be their first “album” album, a statement of purpose perfectly realized. Instead of poking and prodding in search of successful angles (a formula that has admittedly worked well for them in the past) it flows out as one glorious, electro-pop whole. To that end it drops the irony and sarcasm that have become Emily Haines trademarks, or crutches. “Artificial Nocturne” slyly comments on her reputation (“I’m just as fucked up as they say” she claims) without resorting to pithy comebacks. “The Wanderlust” features Lou Reed while wisely avoiding the dank, dark formula so often associated with him. This is Metric exposed to the light of day, and it’s powerful stuff. 

CityflowersLead.jpgNUTID: Cityflowers

Toomanynotes, 32 minutes
Rating: 4.5/5

Instrumental music used to be very popular. Now, unless it precedes some movie, neither pop consumers nor kids with good taste have much patience for music that doesn’t literally speak to them.

Maybe criticism itself is to blame. Most music critics aren’t musicians, and cower in the face of art that lacks the stylistic signifiers a vocalist / lyrics can so easily bring. I include myself in that.

So I struggle to describe Nutid’s second album Cityflowers without simply dumping adjectives; it’s beautiful, and evocative. It’s moving, and (ugh) cinematic. It fits well into the background, with enough instrumental diversity (is that a theremin on “Hidden City”?) to be enjoyed with rapt attention. Whether Åsa Jacobsson and Håkan Åkesson intended the music for an as-yet-unreleased film treatment or a cohesive work to be judged on its own merits I can’t say for sure. Regardless it works both as a soundtrack to your day and a standalone album, fully functional.

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