thu 09/02/2023

Album: Skyway Man - The World Only Ends When You Die | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Skyway Man - The World Only Ends When You Die

Album: Skyway Man - The World Only Ends When You Die

Warm psychedelic Californian indie-gospel-country ruminations on the path to the beyond

Over the Styx and far away...

When the concept album first properly took flight, in the late 1960s, before it became slave to the bloated artifice of prog-rock, it was an extension of the LSD-soaked times: “Songs aren’t big enough, man, I need a bigger canvas!” Famed albums by The Beat

les, The Beach Boys, The Kinks and The Pretty Things sum up this golden period. The second album from singer-songwriter James Wallace’s Skyway Man persona is a psychedelic concept piece, but in line with this wide-eyed period, rather than crap by Yes and the like. Wallace’s psychonaut indie ruminations are, thus, loaded with opaque visionary bliss.

Wallace earned his stripes on the Nashville scene, the alternative scuzzier side of it, but he’s now based in Oakland, California. The World Only Ends When You Die, however, does not concern itself with our day-to-day physical plane but is, instead, a stoned, gospel-smudged trip up a post-Christian River Styx (portrayed in excellent psychedelic cartoon form on the gatefold). Wallace’s sound has been called cosmic country and Americana, and that’s certainly a feature, but its closer in scope to a blurred, narcotic, lo-fi revisioning of Memphis southern soul, especially on the chugging cabaret of “Old Swingin’ Bell” where the brass section goes up against otherworldly theremin.

Thematically, the lyrics offer biblical blues impressionism, a numinous dream journey: “Caught you reading from the Book of the Dead… put it down, go out and wear your body for a little more time,” runs “Don’t Feel Bad About Being Alive”. Useful musical comparisons would be Jeffrey Lewis, Jonathan Richman and Primal Scream in Deep South balladry mode, although this isn’t a floaty album; “Atom Bomb”, for instance, is Jerry Lee Lewis-ish rock’n’roll.

It’s almost all euphoric, though. Whether on the spaced Lennon-esque slowie “Night Walking, Alone” or sections that blatantly borrow from old gospel songs, such as “Sometimes Darkness”, which flips religious joy into something more secular and frazzled (but still spirit-raising). The likes of the band Wilco and the TV channel Adult Swim have discovered Skyway Man so he’s not completely under the radar, but this music has a scruffy beauty that deserves a wider public.

Below: Watch the freaky animated art video for Skyway Man's "Sometimes Darkness/Railroad/Sometimes Darkness Reprise"

A blurred, narcotic, lo-fi revisioning of Memphis southern soul


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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You don’t need to trash Yes and prog rock in order to make a point about an album that is not attempting to be either of these things. But even if it is the practice is unnecessary and just undermines your review.

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