One of 2015’s most beautiful releases took flight so late in the year that we didn’t have the chance to cover it. Ocean combines material from Cicada‘s most recent albums (Coastland and Light Shining Through the Sea), leaving only 11 minutes on the cutting room floor. But that’s okay, because this set is already stuffed ~ at 73 minutes, Ocean is more than generous.
For many, this album will be an introduction to Cicada, yet the female-led Taiwanese quintet has actually been around since 2009. During that time, they’ve amassed a healthy discography. They’ve also shared stages with ‘Olafur Arnalds, Balmorhea and Rachel Grimes, the latter being an early adopter. It’s easy to hear why, as this set is as steeped in beauty as a teabag in water.
The ocean is never far from the thoughts and sounds of the ensemble. The opening title track of the first official release, “Over the Sea/Under the Water” turned out to be prescient, as it found another home as the closing track of Coastland and led to a recent sea surge. Everything here is inspired by Taiwan’s west coast, and reflects a particular angle, from seabird to shore, from foam to depth. The final orchestral bloom of “Over the Sea/Under the Water” is one of the album’s highlights, though the piece is now in the five spot. The highlight is the new opener, “Flapping Wings,” which bursts with stringed ebullience. But the entire set is perfectly sequenced to maximize a sense of gentle awe.
It’s amazing to hear an album this long without catching a single dark note, but Cicada manages just that; it’s as if every shadow of melancholy and fear has been banished. This tone is welcome, as the coast lies in a tsunami zone. By emphasizing serenity over anxiety, Ocean reflects more than just the sea; the album celebrates the presence of beauty in the changing tides. (Richard Allen)