Artist Spotlight

Review: On the Water, “Cordelia”

No Comments 3 May 2015

Review: On the Water, “Cordelia”

Cordelia is the type of album you don’t hear often; it’s rough, penetrating and sounds a little weather-beaten. But it’s also pure, artful and faithful to its source. Fletcher Van Vliet is a bona fide songwriting talent.”

Artist: On the Water

Album: Cordelia

Genre: Folk

RIYL: Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Tom Waits, The Gaslight Anthem

On the Water - Cordelia

Fletcher Van Vliet, songwriter and founding member of Philadelphia’s On the Water, describes new album Cordelia as “a dark love poem about self-discovery, realizing the things you love, close friends and adventure, limitations and failures, and bouts with depression.” I couldn’t devise a more accurate statement about this record if I labored over it at length. There is a sort of magic about music that skirts around the edges of the light, dipping in and out of the shadows. And with the release of Cordelia, On the Water shows us glimpses of every kind of emotion you’d expect to be revealed on a journey of self-discovery.

This particular incarnation of the band as a quartet comes after a lengthy run including up to eight or nine members. And some of the arrangements on this record tap into that dark folk orchestra past. In truth, it gives Van Vliet even more weapons in his songwriting arsenal to deliver the depth that this record reaches both lyrically and musically. And the approach to recording this record (plus another EP in the span of two days) maintains the spontaneity and again, that captured magic, that’s become a clear hallmark of Van Vliet’s work. You don’t have to have heard all of it to get that; the expansive and somewhat extemporaneous nature of the tracks on Cordelia make that clear from the first notes.

Cordelia is a record definitely best taken as one large dose and works extremely well as a full listen to experience the versatility in both the tone and style of the lyrics, arrangements and powerful vocal performances by Van Vliet. But there are some standout tracks that serve as wonderful conduits to getting to know the band’s sound better. The title track is one of those, showing off the arrangement skills and a more stripped back sound with great dynamics.

Another is “Gatekeeper,” a stunner that showcases an incredibly powerful vocal that taps into a raw place complementing the lyrics perfectly (“I’m still alive, I’m still breathing. I can’t hide when the wind is whipping across my face. I feel a change coming over me, an unchained mind.”) And “Varsity,” the song that actually stopped me in my tracks and let me know this was a record that deserved a wider audience. It’s an undeniably well-written and executed song that very simply expresses desire, self-awareness and depression in one exceptionally simple truth.

The album taken as a whole is wonderfully written and cohesive from track-to-track. Cordelia is the type of album you don’t hear often; it’s rough, penetrating and sounds a little weather-beaten. But it’s also pure, artful and faithful to its source. Fletcher Van Vliet is a bona fide songwriting talent. And his delivery is real and relatable. This is a record I’m happy to recommend as a reviewer; On the Water have very ably created a dark love poem that speaks volumes.



On the Water on Bandcamp: http://weareonthewater.com/

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