There’s been quite a bit of talk that Fink’s Hard Believer doesn’t deliver on the artistic promise made by 2011’s Perfect Darkness. But that would be to assume that each subsequent album in an artist’s catalog is meant as a follow-on. Why not let each be what it wants to be… what it is? Hard Believer charts a course unto its own as a boozy, bluesy collection that forgoes the electronic flourishes of its predecessor in favor of a more organic approach replete with fuzzy guitars and insistent drums. Still, Fink sets this one to a slow, sensual burn. There’s nowhere to go but in, and there’s no rush to get there.
Hard Believer seems to be about the immersive experience that a cohesive record can offer. It’s a top-to-bottom, unhurried listen that works just as well on the floor with a spliff as it does in bed with a lover. Even the builds of “Green and the Blue”, “White Flag”, and “Pilgrim” are stoney enough to not pull the listener too far out of their sway. They are calculated risks, willing to sacrifice frenetic energy for impassioned urgency.
Once past that block, the middle swath of Hard Believer — from “Two Days Later” to “Looking Too Closely” — has the effect of a musically induced trance. The atmospheric vibe of “Two Days Later” nails Fink’s easy-on-the-ear signature mix of one part saunter, one part swagger. Then, on the spare opening and middle stanzas of “Shakespeare”, just an acoustic guitar and Fin Greenall’s soulfully casual voice hold the space until the rest of the band adds more breadth and depth to the song’s architecture. Here, at least, comparisons to Jack Johnson are forced to give way to Greenall’s closer kinship with Citizen Cope. Bristol accent aside, Greenall and Cope share a fondness for a decidedly laissez-faire approach to diction that lends a casual air when that is what’s called for. Such is the case with “Shakespeare”, despite the fact that Christopher Marlowe might well be rolling in his grave: “Oh, Romeo. Oh, Romeo. He thinks it’s a love thing, all masks and kisses from the balcony. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s a fucking tragedy.”
The final two tracks, “Too Late” and “Falling”, are the weakest links of the chain. But, by then, it’s game over anyway; the listener’s die has been previously cast. Getting lost in the measured melancholy of Hard Believer doesn’t take much effort at all. And that’s the point — a point made repeatedly throughout the set. Just lie back and let Fink do all the work here.