Jack Johnson: writer, surfer, musician, also philosopher? He urges us to avoid such restrictive labels in his new album’s first song, “Open Mind.” Johnson’s first full length release in five years, Meet The Moonlight, is both sonically soothing and lyrically sharp. Though always concerned with making music that encourages emotional introspection, this time around there’s also a detailed exploration of existence found in the words the artist croons.
“Open Mind” is a fresh, engaging way to begin the album, and some of the more notable instruments on the track include a fretless guitar and a soft piano. Earnestly, as if his survival depends on an answer, Johnson asks the question “Why is it so hard to find an open mind?” This introduces listeners to one of the more important motifs of the song and the whole album—a suggested dismissal of binary thinking, or the deconstruction of all systems of binary oppositions.
Defined by Wikipedia as “a system of language and/or thought by which two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another,” most conversations in the western world are situated within the limitations of this rigid, two-choice framework. Not only does a system of binary opposition make it nearly impossible to articulate complex emotional responses to serious issues, it’s a dangerous framework because it doesn’t reflect the ambiguity of the human experience. Much like the music we somehow continue to make, our minds and hearts are often just combinations of imprecise experiences and reactions to those experiences, these body parts are nonhomogeneous things/non-things, and they are constantly getting stuck in those shades “between hope and doubt.”
So, the song writer seems to advocate for a freer, more open conception of existence. He says in the same song that “everything around us is beggin’ just to be,” which could be a nod to the other incredibly important motif of being emotionally connected and present in the given moment. There’s an interview with Johnson in Relix where he talks about the collaborative process of making Meet the Moonlight, and he attributes a lot of its overall sound to the causal process of playing around with sounds in order to find what feels good. He had some ideas about what he wanted each song to sound like, but he was open to different interpretations, different patterns and versions that came up during live sessions.
The song that combines all of Johnson’s existential concerns is “I Tend to Digress.” Easily one of the strongest tracks, there’s not an overwhelming amount of instruments used in this one, and the lyrics, though drifty, seem to be intimately connected through feeling. We hear:
“Back hеre in the headlights/I comparе and I contrast/ It's fair to say sometimes I make things last longer than they want to last/ fall when I was younger/ or next spring when I'll be singing songs about now/ wondering just how I got from there to here/ or the other way around/ Am I just a proper noun?”
This distillation of experience reveals a lot—first we see the use of “and” reasoning rather than “or”, which is a significant step toward breaking out of the oppressive clutches of binary understanding. Then there’s an organic shift between the feelings of the present and the future, also a questioning of definitions and identity. It’s all a beautiful synthesis of thought and feeling.
Rounding out the album, though, is the equally beautiful and satisfying “Any Wonder,” which contains the philosopher’s best lines:“ Is it really so hard to believe/ that the light might come and go/ and the love might never leave.” If Meet The Moonlight has something urgent to tell us, it might be that the present moment, like music and the moonlight, will continue to come and go, but we will not always feel them with the same intensity as before, and we must embrace the dissonance that’ll come from knowing that.
Written by: Michelle Everette