Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

The Low Anthem is a Providence-based folk/indie band with a gorgeous, haunting sound. Their third album (released last year) is Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, and the video for first track, Charlie Darwin, just debuted. It’s not a heavy, sciencey song like, say, the recent TMBG album, but apparently Darwin was some inspiration:

Well, we all read East of Eden before the recording session. We had the books great word “timshel” taped above the control booth. It from ancient Hebrew meaning “though mayest.” We also had a copy of The Origin of Species close at hand always.

Here’s the embedded video for Charlie Darwin, and after the jump you’ll find the lyrics and the band’s interpretation on whether the song is depressingly nihilistic or strangely uplifting:

Set the sails I feel the winds a’stirring
Toward the bright horizon set the way
Cast your wreckless dreams upon our Mayflower
Haven from the world and her decay

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
Fighting for a system built to fail
Spooning water from their broken vessels
As far as I can see there is no land

Oh my god, the water’s all around us
Oh my god, it’s all around

And who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin
The lords of war just profit from decay
And trade their children’s promise for the jingle
The way we trade our hard earned time for pay

Oh my god, the water’s cold and shapeless
Oh my god, it’s all around
Oh my god, life is cold and formless
Oh my god, it’s all around


Let’s talk about your music, like the lyrics to Charlie Darwin.

To me it sounds, well quite horribly depressing, lyrically, really. Was that the intention?
Ben: Well I guess it depends on your perspective.

Well, it was a quite a literal interpretation.
Ben: There’s just not a lot of… anchors out there you know, you’re brought up and you’re taught certain very specific things or probably most people are and when you’re given some of education you’re taught to relate to your community in a certain way. Essentially our knowledge is ideas that continue to get passed down, the strong survive, it kinda makes it impossible to believe in a framework like that.

You think if you fully accept that scientific and logical outlook on the world then everything else just becomes theory and essentially meaningless?
Ben: Well it’s like our morality is a product of the same survival of the fittest of ideas and passed down and whatever institution propagate whatever ideas, the strong survive. Like the Church of England has some brilliant missionary wing and the ethic is to spread their religion into different parts of the empire that they are expanding into, that’s a lot like a natural reproductive instinct.

Yeah, I think that the urge to spread your ideas is many ways probably a part of that instinct to make copies of yourself.
Ben: So its uh, I mean that’s all well and good but I think it puts in perspective things like relationships that you were taught to have.

So would you say that there’s this tide, like the with lyrics about ‘the formless waters’ that are fighting to come in, that they represent this almost irresistible retreat to nihilism?
Ben: I think that what’s most beautiful is people’s efforts to hold onto something despite that nihilism, you know we live in the face of that every day and decide to do things. Maybe it’s a beautiful and pervasive failure at all moments but it’s so beautiful to see humans struggling against that.

I think it’s an interesting perspective, from someone who is apparently not religious and who finds man’s tiny place in the universe futile yet uplifting. What do you think?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Exactly my thoughts.

    Not to get over-personal, but it was exactly this that helped to get me through my sister’s death a few years ago.

    She was one of the loveliest and liveliest people I’ve ever known, deeply in love, on the threshold of life and bursting with energy… and it all ended in an accident at home one evening.

    The thing that helped the most? Not feeling as though I had to conjure some kind of imaginary purpose behind it, or forgive the mysterious ways of a being that could have prevented it but chose not to.

    Losing her was – and remains – the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, but it happened, there wasn’t any reason for it, and I find it comforting that that’s all there is to say.

  2. I was very moved by that. Life can be cruel and awful, “cold and formless”, as they say. Yet, those of us who chose to can face reality and live with what we make of life. Or, one can reject reality and live a fantasy. Which is better? I guess it just depends on your choice. I chose reality. It can be incredible or it can suck. Sometimes both at the same time.

  3. Everyone hs a different experience, but there is something that happens when one goes from not really thinking about human evolutionary biology (which is, of course, at the center of this angst) to thinking about it a lot. This song would have made a lot of graduate students I knew in graduate school depressed in or around about 1987.

    Of course, nobody really had time to think about it.

  4. “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.”

    Pop philosophy, off course, but I still think it’s a pretty good way to put it.

    Also, if you know where that quote is from, you’re a big geek ;)

  5. Nothing true is ever true forever; the key is to appreciate it while it is true, but to constantly test it for validity and let it pass when its time is over, and to keep the memory of it without needing to keep it itself.

    This is true whether we’re speaking of people, things, or ideas.

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