“Chase the Dark Away” provides Jim White’s Where It Hits You with as emblematic an opening as it could have, assuming you don’t count simply reading this first song in the tracklist. It has the haunting sort of Americana sound that White’s created throughout his career, but White’s resisting the pull of the dark. Across five meditative minutes, White and his bandmates build a platform for a new outlook, using the lyrics both with and against the music.
The song never turns anthemic or unrealistic, nor should it. White’s artistic success has come largely from his ability to accurately, if weirdly, capture certain moments and places. His chronicles of a particular sort of Southern life could have been fascinating tourist shots if they weren’t so moving, and the documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus contextualized the work in terms of autobiography as well as cultural analysis. When “Sunday Refrain” starts with a lazy, “I got no one to talk to / Nothing to see,” White summons a physical landscape as well as an emotional state.
With this album, he stays more on psychological terrain. Knowing that his wife left White in the middle of this record’s recording adds a personal detail that makes the story more compelling, but the album successfully defines itself on its own. White delivers a heaviness at times, but the disc never bogs down. The point here isn’t cartharsis, but the capture of a complex psychic structure.
“Epilogue to a Marriage (Best of Days)” focuses the dark gravity pulling the album inward. You don’t need the lyrics to start to feel the emptiness at the heart of the music. White’s acknowledgement that “there’s always hell to pay” and the looming presence of a potential sucker punch could turn into a defeatist dirge, but it becomes a strong assertion, more an assertion than a defeat, with the look for a blessing in the process remaining suspect enough that the song stays off balance.
“What Rocks Will Never Know” creates the musical antidote, with a loopy, whistle-laden bounce of a track that takes joy in experience, even if it’s “being consumed” or the “joy of sorrow”. Sonically, the track couldn’t be more tongue-in-cheek, but it’s hard not to take White’s lyrics at face value, embracing life in a ludicrous way, but embracing it nonetheless.
With “State of Grace”, White finds himself discovering a “cockeyed state of grace”. He chronicles his downfalls in various southern US locations before locating himself in this mental state. When he can sing about what “will be alright with me”, it comes not from a lazy complacency, but from an epiphanic moment in maturation. The song works well within its own confines, but it gains potency from its placement in the middle of the album, filling out and being built up by the larger unit’s complexity.
Nothing’s quite that simple with Jim White, though. The following track gets increasingly strange, with its desire to “sleep in poison ivy”. “Infinite Mind” brings a surreal sort of anarchy, as much hobo revolution as French absurdism. Although the title Where it Hits You suggests a precise location (either physical or mental), White wants us to stay constantly unsettled. There’s a coherent view presented here, but it’s not one that ever lets the listener feel too stable.