Cicada: White Forest

The engagement with ecological issues shown by Cicada on its previous album, Oceans, carries over onto its latest, White Forest. Conceived with sea creatures (whales, dolphins, sea turtles) and land animals (cats, birds) in mind, the seven-song set conveys the Taiwanese chamber group's desire to emphasize the profound impact humans have on the environment and other species. Said concerns come through in “White Forest,” whose title refers to the bleaching of coral reefs due to seawater warming, and “Used to be Home,” which alludes to the impact of offshore wind energy on the white dolphin's natural habitat. Cicada's pieces are instrumentals, but lyrics aren't needed when “Swimming in the Plastic Ocean” so clearly communicates its message in title alone.

Still, rather than adopt an unremittingly despairing stance mired in gloom and a sense of impending catastrophe, violinist Hsu Kang-Kai, violist Eunice Chung, cellist Yang Ting-Chen, guitarist Hsieh Wei-Lun, and pianist Jesy Chiang just as often infuse their music with a celebratory spirit inspired by the splendours of the natural world and its non-human inhabitants. The recording takes immediate flight with “Dolphins Leap” and the aptly named “Fly,” both of them prototypically joyous samplings of the quintet's harmonious sound. But not surprisingly considering the album theme, moments of melancholy surface alongside joyful ones, the plaintive expressions by the strings within “White Forest” and the mournful overall character of “Used to be Home” two memorable illustrations.

Cicada's material might be described as chamber pop-classical, given the group's penchant for enhancing its refined chamber playing with richly melodic material. Other colours come into play, too, however: during “Whale Family,” for instance, Wei-Lun's guitar playing nudges the group's sound away from chamber classical to pastoral folk. A mid-song melody voiced in turn by piano and strings in “Dolphins Leap” suggests that drawing a comparison from Yann Tiersen's style to Cicada's wouldn't be off-base, and it's certainly also possible to hear similarities between Rachel's and the Taiwanese outfit in their respective styles. Consequently, listeners with recordings by Tiersen and Rachel's in their collections should probably find Cicada's White Forest as much to their liking.

December 2017