Cicada's Ocean arrives accompanied by a blurb from Rachel Grimes, a not insignificant detail considering that she was formerly a member of Rachel's and now releases quality neo-classical music under her own name (2015's The Clearing a fine example). Yet while one shouldn't read too much into the detail—certainly there are notable differences between Cicada and Rachel's—there are commonalities. Similar to Rachel's, Cicada, formed in 2009, is a chamber-sized ensemble specializing in melodically rich classical music, the instrumentation in its case being violin, cello, acoustic guitar, and piano.
For the record, Ocean isn't so much an entirely new album of material by the Taiwan quintet but more a compilation, given that tracks on it also appear on 2015's Light Shining Through the Sea and 2013's Coastland. It's a bit of a moot point, however, when the content of Ocean will be new to many listeners. Cicada definitely takes the ocean theme seriously: the two albums drew for inspiration from the Pacific Ocean and the East and West coastlands of Taiwan, but in all likelihood, such details will seem of minor import the moment the recording begins and the group's sumptuous music fills the air. Theirs is a graceful, harmonious, and ultra-melodious sound, and no better argument for Cicada is required than the music itself, whether it be the soul-stirring “Flapping Wings,” elegant reverie “Close to Wetland,” or nostalgia-laden “Deep Blue Shadow.”
Piano is central to Cicada's sound, but important too are the strings and acoustic guitar. In this percussion-free outfit, lilting melodic patterns carry the rhythm, and a pastoral-folk quality often emerges when the strums of the acoustic guitar are factored into the mix. The tone of the album is largely celebratory and uplifting, but there are ponderous moments as well. “Blooms in Dark” and “The Seashore of Endless Worlds” offer two such examples, and the melancholy side of the group also comes to the fore during “Ocean Foam,” which Cicada expressly wrote to bring attention to the damage the Taiwan coast has suffered at human hands.
If there's a weakness here, it's of the minor variety: the album's long at seventy-plus minutes, likely the result of two albums having been used as source material, and a leaner fifty-minute set might have been the better way to go. No matter: to return for a moment to that aforementioned blurb, Grimes is certainly correct in characterizing the new collection as “a beautiful celebration of our precious oceans.”