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It's not unusual for artists to spend years perfecting a particular sound then trying something completely new. Sudden changes in direction are what make bands exciting, it's certainly what helps to elevate records like Reflektor, Walk the River and 808s & Heartbreak. Yet in those cases the artists in question clearly built upon their original sound to make something expansive, yet recognisable. In the case of Fink, the departure from Fin Greenall's early work as an electronic musician and DJ, sees little trace of his earlier career in his output post-2006.

Hard Believer is the sixth studio record from Fink and builds upon 2011's Perfect Darkness to create an atmospheric collection of tracks rooted in the bluesy sounds of the American deep south. The intricacy of Fink's earlier work is still present, but it takes more of a backseat this time around to turn the attention to Greenall's haunting, reverb drenched vocals. Sometimes the guitar is content to repeat a single riff, looping as though sampled from an old, forgotten track. 'Pilgrim' is a great example of this. Aside from minor variations the guitar sticks to a simple, palm muted chord sequence for the first four minutes, with only the layering of another guitar and drums marking the chorus. After this the percussion and violin kick in properly, with the guitar rising higher, yet retaining the same tempo throughout.

'Pilgrim' one of the album's standout moments, opening in a relatively sedate way, lulling your into a false sense of security before a second half that sees a flurry of action from Greenall and his backing band (Tim Thornton on drums and guitar, Guy Whittaker on bass). It ends on a sombre note, with everything stripped away except for the slow notes of a guitar and a quiet, scratchy violin.

That mood is continued through to 'Two Days Later' one of a few truly down-tempo tracks on what is an overall melancholic record. Taking a slow beat, which incorporates use of cross-stick (perhaps to make the beat feel more human as there are certainly some digital beats mixed in there) the bass plays a slow waltzing riff and Greenall's rising and falling vocals give the impression of elastic tension, of individuals pulling and pushing. Suitable as the song charts the epilogue to a relationship. The drama of the final moment has already passed us by, all we're shown is the regret, the hurtful lament as Greenall sings "We know who are / where we stand / and where we fall ... apart." After the cinematic 'Pilgrim' it makes for a bold choice to follow it up with a track like this, but 'Two Days Later' delivers such an emotional punch that it's able to comfortably step out of the shadow.

The same can't be said of 'Shakespeare', which uses the tale of Romeo and Juliet to tell the story of young lovers drifting apart. Compared to the tracks before, it seems less inspired, with the lyrics veering uncomfortably close to cheesy singer-songwriter fodder, particularly the opening verse - "Oh why did they teach us Shakespeare / when you're only sixteen / No idea what it all means." It also sticks rigidly to a more traditional verse chorus structure than other tracks on Hard Believer, with palm muted acoustic guitar under Greenall's croon in the chorus, building to hands in the air mid-tempo rock for the chorus. You can picture the bright lights shining out on to the crowd as it's played from a festival stage. 'Shakespeare' leaves a saccharine taste, like we've seen this before, only know it's watered down and safe.

Whilst Hard Believer has its moments, this sense of playing it safe permeates throughout the record. It's influenced by the blues of the deep south, but never quite manages to capture that raw tone. Partly it's due to Greenall's voice, which can never really evoke the harshness of the blues, better suited to a soulful croon. That's not really an issue though as his voice generally holds everything together extremely well. The real issue is that musically the album lacks immediacy. On a number of tracks it seems content to disappear into the background, and interesting album to play at your next dinner party. The emotional power of 'Two Days Later' is a rarity, 'Truth Begins' (the records only other down-tempo track) relies a little too heavily on reverb for atmosphere and follows 'Shakespeare's example of sticking to formulaic structure.

For those who've enjoyed previous Fink records, you'll likely find much to like on Hard Believer. Tracks like 'Keep Falling' recall the more delicate moments on Perfect Darkness and Distance and Time, but for the most part it never manages to reach the exquisite heights of material like 'Trouble's What You're In'. It's a real shame as Fink's previous work shows just how breathtaking Greenall's music can be; Hard Believer has traces of that, but ultimately it is best left preaching to the converted.

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