Orenda Fink has worked long and hard to find her way. Check the progression: Little Red Rocket, loud; Azure Ray, soft; solo, neither. While still clearly in search of a defined voice, she is quickly proving to listeners that her journey has been worthwhile. She has spent much of her music career exploring major- and minor-chord swoon with Maria Taylor in the two aforementioned groups, but Fink has finally stepped out of her comfort zone on her solo debut, Invisible Ones. Her penchant for songs of the disenchanted, the downtrodden and those left by the wayside remains, but she shows a greater sense of ownership here than on previous works by culling the sum of her past and merging it into her broadening perspective.
“Les Invisibles,” the album’s namesake (“invisible ones” in Haitian) and the record’s spiritual core, marks the most notable progression in Fink’s songwriting. Over a spare, tambourine-driven track, she unfolds the story of a rich man, his butler and the loss of the butler’s son to his employer’s greed. Deliberately unfolding each crease to the wafting beat of a tambourine, Fink observes instead of seethes — mourns with, as opposed to mourning for. Here, she sounds engaged to and committed to her characters.
Fans need not worry, because much of Fink’s pop foundation remains intact. The tenderly swinging “Leave It All” opens the procession, its tale of woe and suicide conjuring a familiar sense of sorrow. Buzz and howls heat up “Dirty South,” tempered by half-time drums and her smooth croon. “Bloodline” bludgeons sludge with blunt bass before its shimmering chorus offers a moment of respite. The frequent back and forth of sensations and emotion are trademark Fink, a ray of levity amidst crushing gravity.
Understandably, Fink occasionally veers too far askew. “Animal” murmurs with drippy drama, like Björk tackling latter day Peter Gabriel at an AIDS benefit attended by Madonna and the Pope. However, given the restraint and focus that guides much of her songwriting, excess is a relative term within the overall album. Invisible Ones stands steadily as an encouraging signpost in Fink’s career.
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