Given that he was raised Pentecostal in Pensacola—and has a fascination with painful interactions between God and men—it’s easy to understand why Jim White’s work is often described as Southern gothic or alt-country. Yet his first three albums only superficially employed Southern or country styles; like some pedal-steel-wielding, cracked-crooning Brian Eno, White specialized in indescribable music that seemed to emanate from, to quote one of his own album titles, No Such Place.
The outer-space atmospherics and troubling tales remain on his new Transnormal Skiperoo, released last year in the U.K. and finally available here. But with the help of producers Joe Pernice and Michael Deming, White also surveys the landscape he’s long tried to escape, shrugs, and settles down instead. Earthy rhythms provide both a welcome backbeat and a sense of history: “Blindly We Go,” about the mystery (and inevitability) of faith, is introduced with a simmering Stax groove, while gospel-indebted backing vocals point further back to a sanctified past. But the real payoff is that such musical signifiers ground White’s philosophy as well. “Turquoise House” is a playful country number about simply being yourself that could be a sing-along hit in some alternate universe (no such place, alas), while “Long, Long Day” and “Town Called Amen” offer more serious takes on White’s new, and newly hopeful, idea that there’s a place on earth for all God’s misfits, if not God himself. The latter track is the outsider hymn White has always promised: the achingly lovely sound of peace, at the very least, in his own time.