Last full-length ‘The Wild Hunt’ was an exhilarating, near-faultless work of its genre, all frenetic thrumming, threadbare song structures, and pastoral tales of love, loss and longing. But this album doesn’t even tread water: it regresses. There’s little variation and few chords truly register. What exactly does he mean when he flamboyantly intones “with a rain to help river but a river is so hard to please” in the chorus of opener ‘To Just Grow Away’? Verdant country and western twangs backdrop aside, it’s too obtusely ostentatious and metaphorical as an introduction.
Unfortunately, the record progresses in similar fashion – the periodic ‘Revelation Blues’ features pleasant enough guitar ambles and ‘Lead Me Now’, nimble, deft guitar rhythms, but lyrically, it’s all so tedious. The semi-discordant Jeff Mangum croons and high-pitched, sliding guitar riffs on single ‘1904’ add a bit of spice when he hollers “here is something so strange”, but he follows it up in the relatively soft-spoken ‘Bright Lanterns’ with a brazenly wistful “damn you always treat me like a mountain stranger”. Lines like these, corroborated by antiquated lap steel guitar twangs, really do rile.
There’s one bona fide highlight here – title track ‘There’s No leaving Now’. It’s a slight deviation, with Matsson on grand piano: a crushing, heart-rending ballad with bass and drums whose delicate, closing diminuendo muscularly tugs at our heartstrings. It’s unseemly; for on the most part of this long-player, Matsson has simply regurgitated pre-used melodies and chord thrums into different, somewhat lacklustre shapes. On his earlier work, Matsson stuck to a few, radiant formulae. Here, he only stuck to one.
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