UK-based, DJ-turned-songwriter Fin Greenall’s orchestral folk trio, Fink, is the Django Unchained of their genre, rooted in a Southwest image of covered wagons and rolling tumbleweed but still progressive and contemporary. Flanked by drummer Tim Thornton and bassist Guy Whittaker, Greenall continues the “weirder, more experimental” side of Fink with Hard Believer, which hits stores July 14 on the band’s own imprint R’COUP’D via Ninja Tune.
The weird takes residence immediately on the album’s title track, which rumbles in on a bluesy upright bass and a single lyric: “I can see the light coming over the hill.” Our cowboy is chewing on straw, squinting into the high noon sun. A second lyric follows 90 seconds later, stating the album title over and over. Lyrically boring and repetitive despite its intricately woven accompaniment, “Hard Believer” accurately represents the six tracks that immediately follow.“Green and the Blue” is a confession that suffers from a bad choice of song title; meanwhile, “White Flag” is an industrial venture on a folk album that doesn’t ever redeem itself from its dreary, droning vocals and thick, dissonant guitar. (The reverb on this third track is anything other than pleasant when the guitar tones fade into one another.) An uplifting mood is entertained by the intro to ensuing “Pilgrim,” which features a distinctly Middle Eastern, caravan texture, but it too turns gloomy upon the entrance of Greenall’s vocals.
Midway through the record, on a simply guitar ballad named after an Elizabethan playwright, Greenall’s lyrics get more interesting. He speaks what we’re all thinking about high school Shakespeare teachings, asking “why did you teach me? […] At only sixteen, no idea what it all means.” It is the first sign of light on the album yet the repeated refrain of “we learned nothing” remains dim. By “Truth Begins” the listener has tired of Hard Believer’s tendencies of “layers on layers” of bad and cliché songwriting, general sadness, and unchecked repetition. It’s a shame, because the accompanying harmonies and percussion are the indisputable torch bearers in this effort.
Each of the album’s tracks is at least four minutes long, with many near five or six. And each begins at its own leisurely pace, leaving time for speculation about the end of the dirt road. Certainly nobody saw the four-minute mark shift in “Truth Begins,” but here it is, a sudden pick-me-up mandolin and subtle choral support constitute the album’s critical transition. What follows is the misleading gem of a single, “Looking Too Closely,” where the writing and bridge sound like they belong to a different collection of songs.But alas, it’s “Too Late” for Hard Believer. A musical pep talk turned tragic buzzkill discourages its listeners from “start[ing] again,” marching to the same beat as its predecessors. And it’s certainly too late by the final track, although “Keep Falling” provides a change of pace. Stripped down and soulful in a crooning way, its vocal harmonies and modulations are done right, unlike those on earlier cut “Two Days Later,” which tried to do the same.
Ultimately, Fink sounds downright sad on Hard Believer and it’s not a healthy sadness that stimulates growth. If you decide to give the album a go, consider listening to it in reverse; it’s not ideal, but otherwise, you might cop out before its real heart and soul arrives. While the vocal melodies and lyrics leave a lot to be desired, such is not the case with Hard Believer‘s artful guitar, bass, and drum parts — divert your attention to those instead.