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mewithoutYou – “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”

Sometimes more is said through how something is expressed than the precise words being articulated.  I’d be lying if I said that I’ve cracked the hidden meaning behind every lyric of “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore.”  Heron of the past with a baked clay! / Truth swans! kaleidoscopic highway!…??? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’ll be damned if Aaron doesn’t sound convincing as hell when he screams it at the top of his lungs, as if it were the most important message he’s ever conveyed.  But there’s a startlingly sad truth behind this song, and really all of [Untitled], that beckons you to have a little patience with this swirling vortex of distortion and mind-numbing screams.

Weiss’ struggles with depression and identity are well-documented, and this song represents his breaking point.  It’s something he slyly alludes to in the next song – the album’s closer, which really serves as more of an outro to “Michael” than anything substantial – when he sings, have I established a pattern, perhaps a bi-annual mental collapse? – followed by a forlorn someday I’ll find me.  It’s a moment of lucidity – his “coming down” – following this episode of absolute heightened panic, where he is far less eloquent.  On “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”, he sings to his bandmate and brother (not-so-coincidentally also named Michael) about feeling as though he is slowly losing his mind – like he’s sinking and can no longer steer the ship: Michael, won’t you row that boat ashore? Your little brother can’t paddle anymore!  It’s as heartbreaking of a moment as any in mewithoutYou’s notoriously poignant lyrical catalogue, allegedly based upon a real conversation that the two siblings shared over the phone.

That’s the thing about “Michael” – at a cursory glance it seems to be absolute nonsense, but there’s enough nuggets of coherence to suggest that Weiss is actually just that elaborate – that everything, even the stuff nobody could possibly understand – carries some form of minuscule meaning to the near-manic frontman.  It’s kind of like that moment at the conclusion of “Rainbow Signs”, where Weiss alludes to an inside joke between him and his late father.  He never bothers to divulge it, because he values that intimacy – it’s something no one else will ever know besides him and his dad.  I get the feeling that there are shades of that occurring here as well, where certain lines offer clarity – like Wonder who’ll my children be? Strangers like their mom and me? – while others intentionally leave listeners scratching their heads because, well, Aaron simply doesn’t want us to see every inch of insanity going on behind the curtain.

And that’s essentially what “Michael” is – a curtain, or this wall of hazy reverb and discordance – designed to keep us at bay while Weiss has a moment with himself to release all of the pent up anger, confusion, and pain devouring him from the inside out.  It’s one of his “bi-annual mental collapses” as he coined it, just sheer emotion and intensity flung against the wall where everything doesn’t have to make sense.  Basically, we’re listening to Aaron losing his mind.  Weiss’ seemingly casual conversation with the archangel Gabriel adds another existential dimension, where he pleads about his path to everlasting life (am I still on that narrow way?).  It’s both awesome and unnerving at the same time.

I always felt like this song was a little misunderstood.  When I first heard it, I was blown away by its sheer intensity – from the mind-blowing drum fills to the electrifying riffs – but I had no idea just how deep the whole thing went.  I think that a lot of mewithoutYou fans still have yet to peel away those layers.  There’s so much going on here that – even as I sit here over six months past this song’s release, acting like I know what’s going on – I’m still certain that I could expound upon more meanings years from now.  There’s endless layers; it’s a bottomless pit of rage, confusion, and fear.  I will never stop discovering new things about “Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”, and amid all the ugliness, that’s quite the beautiful prospect.

Read more from this decade at my homepage for Sowing’s Songs of the Decade.





SowingSeason
05.03.19
I kept hinting that this would eventually happen, but here it is: our first double-dip by one artist. This song means so much to me, and is absolutely deserving of an entry even in my unbiased opinion, based solely on the quality of the instrumental contributions and the sheer intensity of Aaron's screams. With that said, I find it nearly impossible not to be wholly affected by this song.

Slex
05.03.19
You well know how I feel about this one
1000000x yes

SowingSeason
05.03.19
Knew you'd be a fan of this FredSlex Writing this made me realize how basic my review for [Untitled] is. There's so much to dissect in all of these tracks; details that could only come out after months of focused listening.

Papa Universe
05.03.19
i approve

mynameischan
05.03.19
peter ring them bells

tyman128
05.03.19
This song took forever to grow on me, but easily the best off of [Untitled]... gonna have to jam this album again and really focus on this song once more

SowingSeason
05.03.19
Sometimes I think I like this more than Rainbow Signs and I have to check myself

But yeah this is top tier mwy

mynameischan
05.04.19
Almost no songs are better than Rainbow Signs

SowingSeason
05.04.19
Very true. That's why I have to quickly snap out of it lol. Anyway I think this is one of only a few bands that I might have multiple songs for. I just couldn't pass on this considering it's in my top 5-10 songs of the decade.

JohnnyoftheWell
05.04.19
Oh hello there mwY song#2, yes please! Now you just need to get Nine Stories or Fox's Dream up and we'll call it a wrap ;]
One of my favourite of your write-ups so far - particularly agreed that 'everything, even the stuff nobody could possibly understand – carries some form of minuscule meaning to the near-manic frontman.' The line every quotes from this (row your boat ashore) only really resonates in this context for me - it's not just an earnest plea, it's a direct line from a voice that has burnt his way through such a huge range of metaphors and images across his whole career, especially this song, and hearing something that upfront from him compounds that desperation to no end. Also agreed on peeling away layers; this is defo a gift that keeps on giving

Also (and this is loose), but how bleak is that 'narrow way' line addressed this Gabriel if you consider it as vaguely analogous to that equally heartbreaking sequence of lines at the end of Rainbow Signs about his in-joke with his father? The Rainbow Signs lines grounded the song (albeit tragically) in firm personal context, whereas the Gabriel lines here are outright existential disorientation. Just got home and am q drunk, but I think there's something to be made here

SowingSeason
05.04.19
Thanks Johnny! I'm glad you liked this write up because I did put a little extra effort in. I see what you mean about the two parts essentially being inverses of one another - one grounds the meaning while the other cuts the tethers and floats off into existentialism. One of my favorite things about this song is that it all coalesces into this disorienting cloud of sound; it makes me feel slightly unstable listening to it and that's only a fraction of the source, which is where Aaron was at in writing this song. It's like feeling the tremors of an earthquake happening hundreds of miles away. You feel it but you know the real shit is going down somewhere else (Aaron's mind).

Lucman
05.04.19
Masterpiece of a song, can't put it any other way really.

JohnnyoftheWell
05.04.19
Your earthquake simile fits the production style very nicely; very much on board with that. Aaron has a real knack for abstracting or reconfiguring perceptions and sentiments in a way that makes you acutely aware of the significance and power of the source material, and everything from Brother, Sister onwards would never have worked the same way otherwise (imagine Pale Horses if those obscure references didn't resonate with some sense of his intent!)

I'll probably change my mind on this soon, but right now the closest comparison that comes to mind between Michael and another mwY song is with Seven Sisters as much as Rainbow Signs - that song was one of the most cathartic expressions of his mental state at that point and was musically composed in a manner that reminds me of Michael, but whereas Seven Sisters is lyrically dramatic, relatively straightforward and somewhat immature, Michael is full of complex intertext and has a depth and evasiveness that suggests that while Aaron has grown a great deal since then, his depression has only refined itself along with him. Bleak stuff, but at the same time so empowering to hear him confront it here.

SowingSeason
05.04.19
@Luc: Well, I guess one could say it as an unnecessary 5-paragraph thesis, but your way is much more succinct and just as true ;-)

SowingSeason
05.04.19
@Johnny: Oh yeah I actually don't think this track has all that much in common with Rainbow Signs (aside from the fact that they're both amazing). I don't even know what I'd compare Michael to; not much comes to mind which is what makes this so special to me.

JohnnyoftheWell
05.04.19
Yeah it's definitely quite unique within and without their discog! I do remember when it was fresh and several people (including you ;]) were quick to compare it to Rainbow Signs for the similar way the two are sequenced in their respective albums. It's defo shown itself to be something else since, but both are terrifyingly huge at the end of their tracklists...

SowingSeason
05.04.19
yeah I guess I was trigger happy on that comparison wasn't I...in retrospect it feels a bit lazy but I can see why a lot of people wanted to connect those dots so quickly

terrifying is a great adjective to describe this song (and RS)

JohnnyoftheWell
05.04.19
There was so much hype behind that album that we were all trigger happy ;] Never to forget getting home and immediately listening to my cheapo Amazon Prime vinyl after being away for months and putting it off while watching you all wax lyrical for all the right reasons, and then promptly getting my mind blown! That comparison was defo a good basis for a first impression of the song though

JohnnyoftheWell
05.04.19
*never going to forget [so jealous of your editing privilege on these lists]

ArsMoriendi
05.04.19
Holy fuck, there's 32 of these?

SowingSeason
05.04.19
Yeah I won't divulge ~how~ I got my hands on this album so early but all I can say is it really helped me get a head start on my appreciation of the lyrics. I was admittedly a little disappointed at first because they seemed so random, almost too metaphorical for their own good. I recall thinking this album would be perfect if it had more direct messages set to the same excellent music; but now I see that it is all part of the bigger picture - a theme of disorientation, identity crisis, and existential anxiety. Doubting Aaron Weiss is a fool's game.

Slex
05.04.19
New Wine, New Skins is objectively their best song lyrically imo-it's astounding

SowingSeason
05.04.19
underrated track for certain, Slex

I'm more partial to the narratives of Ten Stories, in terms of their best semi-straightforward lyrics (only by comparison to this I suppose, which is ridiculously metaphorical to the point of teetering on nonsense)

JohnnyoftheWell
05.04.19
"objectively their best song lyrically"
Haha this sounds like the start of a long, long debate ;] That song is stunning in all the ways for sure, though

Slex
05.04.19
I definitely think that's Aaron's best writing but New Wine New Skins is referential towards music so I actually understand what he's saying lol

SowingSeason
05.04.19
what do you mean by that Slex I'm curious

deathschool
05.04.19
GOOD list. Thanks

deathschool
05.04.19
My only critique is that I don’t like this song

deathschool
05.04.19
Do not**

SowingSeason
05.04.19
I was bound to not please everyone, at some point ;-) Thanks all the same deathschool!

deathschool
05.04.19
No worries!!

MusicinaBox
05.04.19
Yeah this is the only song I cant into from Untitled, but good write up.

SowingSeason
05.04.19
I immediately thought this was the best track but to each his own

SowingSeason
05.04.19
And thank you, appreciate that :-)

ProjectFreak
05.06.19
I adore the "your little brother can't paddle anymore" line so much it's hard for me to remember how tremendous the rest of the song is, but yeah it's a monster of a track

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