Fink, the moniker of Brisol-raised, Brighton-based Fin Greenall, is Ninja Tunes‘ resident singer-songwriter or “guy-with-a-guitar-who-sings-too.” It might seem to be a bit of a dubious position, given the label’s tendency to output more eclectic acts ranging from Amon Tobin to Roots Manuva, but his chilled-out, bluesy vibe has fit well into the more relaxed of Ninja Tune’s artists. Still, it’s always been a little weird to me that a man who could conceivably be compared to Jack Johnson (though I’d prefer Jose Gonzalez or John Legend) is on one of London’s more “out-there” labels. Granted, his switch-over to singer-songwriter status didn’t come until his sophomore album “Biscuits for Breakfast,” a total 180 from the electronic chill-out debut of 2005′s “Fresh Produce.” And with that transition, the loungey sounds of his first album seemed to have disappeared entirely.
So I was excited when I turned on “Perfect Darkness” and was greeted with a cool synth and a relaxed, jazzy drum beat. It was here that I hoped that, finally, there would be a confluence of Fink’s two totally separate styles. Unfortunately, “Perfect Darkness” sticks pretty firmly to a singular sound. It’s a cool, moody, non-invasive sound centered around Greenall’s soulful voice and his light guitar playing. In this way, it’s easy to hear why Fink is signed to Ninja Tune – a good chunk of their output fits firmly in this chilled-out vibe.
And it’s the songs that play to this that are the album’s strongest. “Perfect Darkness,” the album’s opener, succeeds with light production touches (courtesy of Beck collaborator Billy Bush) and a dirty touch to Greenall’s vocals. It sets a good example for “Perfect Darkness’ ” overall feel and is generally a pretty solid track. However, it’s still the opening and closing, where the strings and synths begin to take forefront and Greenall’s influence is relatively minimal, that are the song’s strongest moments. A similar statement could be made for the album highlight “Honesty,” which starts off with a tense, striding guitar line and gradually layers on Greenall, electronics, and and an insistent snare drum. The difference between the two tracks, though, is that “Honesty” holds up well as a song in itself with sharp, pointed lyrics (“You’re like a fucking rainbow/just let me revel in your blue”) and a plodding, unnerving melody that holds attention through its four-and-a-half minutes.
Unfortunately, this can’t be said for the rest of the album. There’s a lot of songs here that could move forward but just taper off slowly into forgetfulness, like the blusey, road-trippin’ “Wheels” or its follower, the Jose Gonzalez-sounding “Warm Shadow.” Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of complaints to be made outside of this. Greenall’s songwriting isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s not in-your-face enough to be bothersome. The album only has one outright dud, “Fear is Like Fear,” which goes from a normal mellow acoustic track to a Pearl Jam burnout and back abruptly and distractingly. It’s jarring and the song’s position on the album (second) creates false expectations that are never quite realized.
Every other track follows a pretty straightforward pattern that, while it may get tired, is successful at conjuring an evocative, night-time mood. Like the overly-disparaging Jack Johnson comparison, if you don’t think about the music on Perfect Darkness too much (or write a review about it), you might just find it enjoyable, moody faire.