The title of Steve Spacek’s second album is simple but evocative. To wit, Natural Sci-Fi might scan as cryptic when taken at surface level. In the context of Steve White’s 20-year career, however, it speaks volumes. His machine-augmented soulfulness—a paradoxical musical force, warmly organic and yet faintly futuristic—has been there since the days of the Spacek trio’s extraordinary, otherworldly 2001 debut, Curvatia, which found him and his compatriots fusing future-facing sounds with deep-spirited emotion. His adopted, cosmically-inspired surname gestures to the sci-fi sensibility that’s coursed through each of his projects, such as Space Shift, 2005’s chrome-laden solo debut.
Natural Sci-Fi marks the end product of over 12 years of development; many of its tracks started as concepts dating back to the Space Shift era, which White subsequently and belatedly brought to fruition. White’s music has always followed its own path, though, and his stripped-back approach here ensures the songs don’t sound dated. His caramel-rich, offbeat vocal style sounds more assured than ever. The opening title track sets the template to follow: his voice positioned center stage, just two or three elements to complement it at any time.
The two sides to White’s music sit more comfortably together than ever before, boundary-testing sonics balanced with lyrics that are earnestly heart-on-sleeve. There’s a poise to each of its songs, a confidence in their sparse, syncopated swagger. On “Deep Inside,” bass and drums are wonderfully off-kilter, White’s voice complemented by a warm glow of pads. “What would it take,” he softly sings, “for me to get into your soul?” His music has always told universal, time-worn stories in otherworldly tones, and perhaps nowhere so superlatively as here.