Music with Meaning: “Water Baby (feat. Loyle Carner)” by Tom Misch
Find the grooves that turn the grey to sunshine.
Here we are, in a new year. So much has transpired in the last two — much of which has drained and discouraged us. The pandemic is still raging on, and many of its effects are still being felt this far into it. People from all over the world have been hoping to turn the page on this catastrophe, wondering if there will ever be an end in sight.
But what if that’s not the point? What if doing enough just to get by isn’t the goal?
Over the past few years, Tom Misch has become one of my most favorite artists to listen to, as well as an inspiration when creating my own music. Last year, I spent time listening through many of Tom’s previous projects, and one of my most favorite songs to listen to in 2021 came from his debut album, Geography. “Water Baby” is a dynamic, yet smooth and flowy track, a beautiful blend of jazz and hip-hop that combines impactful instrumentation (the core of which comes from a sample of a beautiful saxophone break in “My Lady” by The Crusaders) and groovy, powerful drums — the likes of which you’d probably find in J Dilla’s seemingly infinite catalogue of beats (funny enough, Tom cites Dilla as one of his major influences). The song’s sonic footprint matches its name quite well.
Just like any other song, though, the words that both Tom Misch and Loyle Carner (named Benjamin Coyle-Larner) penned to go along with the music serve as the central focus of the song’s message. As the song opens, Tom sings the chorus for the first time:
’Cause I was born a water baby
Swimming with these times
The grooves that turn the grey to sunshine
’Cause I will live through days that break me
Swimming with these times
The grooves that turn the grey to sunshine
This chorus encapsulates everything that the song is about (as many choruses of songs do. You can probably tell by now that I have a bad habit of stating the obvious). Tom told NPR in an interview about the song’s music video that “I’m a keen swimmer and love surfing, so that kind of inspired the song.” The term “water baby” itself does refer to a person who is happy in water, someone who’s adept in water and loves swimming. Water is known to fluctuate — one moment it can be calm or still, and the next it can be torrential and turbulent. The same can be said for life — some days are good, and others not so much, to say the least. However, in these lines, Tom takes his affinity for water and strives to apply it to life; he swims with the times, whether they’re tranquil or turbulent, and commits to making the most out of life, even on days that break him down. Perhaps my favorite line in the chorus though, is “The grooves that turn the grey to sunshine”. Tom, as well as all of us, know that good music can make a bad day much better. However, the “grooves” don’t just mean our favorite tunes — I think that these “grooves” are supposed to be anything that we find happiness and fulfillment in — whether that is making music like Tom, or writing, or spending time with our loved ones, or heck, even going for a swim. Finding the joy in life is part of what helps us carry on amid its challenges.
Loyle Carner then goes into his verse, delving into his own personal struggles with supporting his family while trying to navigate the music scene as an up-and-coming artist. While he speaks of these challenges in lines like “Cause money’s tight, maybe tighter than it was before” and “Shakin, I’m makin another loss on another tour”, the next lines emphasize his motivation for working hard: “But what I done it for? /To see my mother in the sun abroad”. Loyle knows that despite his struggles, he has a purpose for enduring them — he wants his mother and his family to have a life of peace and happiness. Many times, in life, reminding ourselves of the goals we have and the purpose of enduring our struggles is part of what helps us move forward when hardship arises. The last line of his verse, “Go with the flow of this running water”, serves as a mantra for the song, a reminder to those of us listening that life can be good or bad at any moment, but we must be ready to take what comes and use it to keep thriving.
Tom carries this same perspective throughout his verse, and one of the best parts about it is how it captures a variety of situations that many of us deal with in life. In the first few lines, Tom sings:
Don’t you worry
Two leaves won’t grow the same
And people might forget your name
Doesn’t matter if they do
Ever since the start of the pandemic, we’ve all been spending more time inside, and for a lot of us, that meant more time on social media. Some of us might have felt behind or unaccomplished looking at our friends still achieving things in the middle of a global crisis, but just like Tom sings in these lines, it’s important to remember that not all of us experience growth in the same manner, or at the same rate; we may not all swim with the times in the same way or at the same pace, but so long as we’re moving forward, there’s no need to feel bad. We may feel forgotten by others or out of step with the progress others seem to be making, but it doesn’t matter what other people think of us — even if they do quite literally forget our names, like Tom sings.
Tom also makes an important suggestion here about patience:
Don’t you hurry
When the hot coffee pours will stain
And when the Uber left you in the rain
Your time will come around to you
The mishaps Tom mentions in these lines are endearing and relatable, and for good reason. Patience is a virtue, but it’s a difficult one to master, especially in the world we live in now where a good number of things are readily available at the press of a button on a machine or our screens. One of the most important ways that we embrace the flow of life, though, is by exercising patience. Sometimes, the difficulties or mishaps we run into are caused by our propensity to hurry or rush things; when we choose to try and make things move at our speed, we’re fighting the current of life…and sometimes that can create even more difficulty, which can be hard to come to terms with. Even so, we must remember that when we choose to be patient and move with the flow of life, the right time for us to act will come.
Perhaps the most relevant part of the verse, though, happens in these lines:
Despite the stress of spending so much time alone
’Cause this ge-o-gra-phy is keeping me at home
And I don’t know the way to go
I move with the flow of this running water, this running water
Many people, including myself, could probably answer “Yes” if you asked them whether they spent a lot of time alone, especially at home during this pandemic. The stress of adjusting to working or learning remotely and having to transition from being surrounded by lots of people to spending most of the time in our headspace and our own thoughts became quite heavy, and it’s taking a large toll. The pandemonium and chaos from all that’s taking place in our world has also left us feeling lost and unsure of what to do very often. However, just as Loyle Carner suggests in his verse, Tom ends his by reminding us to move with the flow of life. Despite all the negative aspects of our current circumstances and existence on this planet, we can take those circumstances and use them to keep moving forward.
For me, this song carries a lot of meaning; listening to this track has really encouraged me to take this year and life in general one day at a time, and not to allow whatever bad things that happen to stop me from carrying on. Despite all the stress, worry, fear, conflict, and difficulty that comes, I could let those things propel me forward. I can go with the flow of life’s running water. That doesn’t mean I won’t plan or use proactivity; it means that I’ll take what comes in life and use it as a chance to make progress — and hey, sometimes doing so allows us to be even more intentional at being proactive and ready for similar challenges and experiences later down the road.
If you haven’t given this song a listen, I highly suggest it, alongside Tom Misch’s other projects and songs, of course. I really believe that it speaks of a mindset that can allow us all to be happier and more fulfilled this year, and even further beyond. I hope this groovy track can be a part of making the grey around you turn to sunshine.
So, what are you waiting for?
Go with the flow of this running water.
Thank you for reading my first piece for this ongoing series! I apologize for not having it out earlier — I didn’t necessarily go with the flow as well as I probably should have. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed reading this and took something helpful away from it. I am super excited to be sharing what music means to me with you all like this — it’s helping me out too. :)
Stay tuned for a new piece sometime this week (hopefully 🤞🏾😂)!
Peace and love,
P.S. You can watch Tom Misch’s music video for “Water Baby” here: