We’re riding on this planet, it’s our ship.
We were put on it for a purpose.
These latter days are here.
– George Van Tassel, 1956
James Wallace–singer, songwriter and producer behind Skyway Man–presents The World Only Ends When You Die, a spinning disc flashing the finest examples of cosmological country and sci-fi gospel blues.
The World Only Ends When You Die was conceived as a tragédie lyrique – a cinematic psych-folk opera about a person rendered incapable of coping with an uncertain reality following a near death experience. Under a spell of mixed wisdom by several “trickster guides” hailing from the future, they leap back into the world of the dead only to spend a hero’s journey climbing out, finally returning to the strange American existence of 2020.
Completed in a converted shed near his new home base in Oakland after a rich decade in the Nashville underground fringes, the album features contributions from a now familiar cast of musicians from Richmond, Virginia’s Spacebomb House Band, and an exciting new collaboration with New Orleans based vocal duo, The Lostines. Among the 10 tracks are a handful of early-to-mid-century traditional gospel songs recontextualized through the narrative of each “trickster guide.” The result is a vade mecum on shaking survivor’s guilt after fighting the battle of depression and staving off fears of a strange future on the horizon. By the end of the album, grief and wonder gleam like a golden scratch in the evening sky. To quote the late, great, fellow Virginian, and sadly missed David Berman: “that moment when you take off your sunglasses after a long drive and realize it’s earlier and lighter out than you had accounted for.”
In 2017, Wallace released Seen Comin’ From a Mighty Eye, which NPR called “transcendent Americana.” Beloved reissue label Light In the Attic (who also acted as distributor) described it as “a stew of cult movie sci-fi, cosmic boogie and psychedelic American music.” In 2018, he paired up with Tennessee trad-country band, Teddy & the Rough Riders to record and release an Aquarium Drunkard Lagniappe Session. Later that year, Wilco invited Skyway Man to perform at their annual Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA. And recently he was enlisted by comedian/writer, Joe Pera, to compose music for the upcoming season of his critically-acclaimed Adult Swim TV show, Joe Pera Talks With You. This latest venture casts the cinematic aspects of Wallace’s whole project in sharp relief, a quiet visual triumph received by a true cult audience. The soundtrack was released in early 2020.
Few artists take ownership of ‘cosmic country’ as literally as James Wallace. Few artists have as much to say, with such style and substance of sound. The World Only Ends When You Die is a Saturday serial of cosmic import, “…the River Styx as an amusement park that you ride over and over again.” Eerily prescient for these pandemic times, the record offers a kind of relief–a vocalization of the alien realities that ripple under the surface of society through relatable, repeated mantras. Sometimes darkness in the mind, sometimes it leaves us.