On the Water, a dark folk project from Philadelphia, released their fifth album, Cordelia, on May 9, 2015. On the Water‘s members have always been in flux, ranging from one to nine members. The project began in 2007 as an outlet for the raw, honest folk songs that Fletcher Van Vliet, songwriter and founding member had been writing. On the Water has also collaborated with Jesse Sparhawk, the renowned harpist who has worked with Marissa Nadler, Greg Weeks, and many other notable folk singers.
In 2014, the group dwindled to four core members (Fletcher Van Vliet, Robin Carine, Taylor Jamison, and Lucas Carine). The result was two new albums: Baptism (an EP released on December 31, 2014) and the full-length, Cordelia, both recorded over the course of only two days. Cordelia also features three guest musicians, including Evan McGonagle on cello, the aforementioned Jesse Sparhawk on harp, and Aubrey Van Vliet on vocals.
Cordelia is one of those great albums that may suffer from oblivion, unless people who appreciate its beauty begin to talk about it. The whole set of 10 songs maintains an amazing level of realization, both lyrically and in terms of its hushed yet dynamically energetic arrangements. Its mood and unassuming depth of feeling, reminded me of a profound longing and immediate tenderness.
The tracks seem to follow a loose pattern of roaring fire, followed by one of calming water and vice versa. Though Van Vliet’s styles may vary, you will still find a symmetry weaving through this work. It is all in his words and above all his vocal delivery. One moment his voice brings you to the brimstone of wrath, the next to the tender eulogy of passion.
The lyrics are authoritative, and backed with masterful literary skill. From front to end, the album is consistent and conceptually intact. The overall mood is somber, haunting, yet at times volatile, angry and completely alive. Lyrically, Van Vliet seems to dig and tear into corners of his soul not yet tapped, dragging out a heartfelt sense of passionate urgency.
Yet the album’s genius lies also in the tilted sounds of the guitarscapes or haunting cello, harmonica and harp layers, as this album employs these – and more – on a much subtler level, making each listen more chilling than the last. In a broad sense, Cordelia is where creative alternative music should be, on the edge. On the Water lures you in with intensely dramatic vocal expressions and accompanying hypnotic instrumentation, forcing you to confront new perceptual musical perspectives. It lures me into perceiving a mix between Tom Wait’s brooding demeanor and Robbie Robertson’s dramatic narrative style.
Standout songs like “Born in Reverse”, “Varsity”, “Gatekeeper”, “Kahuna”, “Faint Ink”, “Curtains” and “Cordelia” invoked a contemplative but potent sense of amazement that will certainly keep me coming back for more. With the help of these tracks, I have learnt that an On the Water album is a unique aural experience – and one of the most interesting projects the music world has to offer us currently.