Album Review: Cicada Rhythm – Self Titled
If you’ve been reading ETTG for a long time, you will recognize the name Cicada Rhythm. In fact, we still have an old recording of these two on our YouTube channel. But Cicada Rhythm have been discovered and now they’re releasing their debut on Normaltown Records, an imprint of New West. In other words, they’re able to make the most of their incredibly unique Americana sound. With Andrea DeMarcus on bass/vocals and David Kirslis on guitar/vocals, these two pack a powerful punch. Andrea’s background is highbrow, complete with Julliard training. David’s is from the hills, full of twang and authenticity. Put them together and you get a fine wine that kicks like moonshine.
I want to start by talking about “Dirty Hound,” which is actually the second track on the album. It’s not that the opener is bad, it’s just that this track is so awesome. A little bit of 60s rock feel to it, especially in the electric guitars, and a nice beat. The track just oozes with attitude, setting the listener up for an enjoyable album full of a wide range of human encounters.
“Walking Late” has a much more whimsical structure to it, including Andrea’s sweet vocals. She sounds like a combination of someone like Ingrid Michaelson mixed with a deep country singer like Emmylou Harris. It comes out as a polished gem; brilliant, valuable, even priceless. This track has such a smooth and comfortable vibe. The song’s lyrics are ultimately about coping with insecurity and just trying to figure things out. It’s mostly a sit back and relax song. The steel guitar punctuates a resounding Americana feel.
“In the Garden” is a toe tapper. This track is probably the sound you’d expect to hear when you found out that there’s a male-female Americana duo with their composition. It’s just the most pleasant track to put a smile on your face.
And then there’s “Static in My Dream,” an incredible tour de force of a song. This is THE SINGLE for this album. In fact, on first listen I thought I was hearing the lead singer of the Wood Brothers, with David expressing a high, desperately authentic tone. The sheer gravitas of the song drips from each heartfelt line. “I won’t ever leave you alone,” is a promise amid this dripping, beautiful love song. But then again, is it even real, or is she just static in his dream? Phenomenal song.
“Shadows Before You” highlights Andrea’s vocals again. The song is simple and intimate. But what’s great is how the song meanders and even crawls at times. Feeling a bit like a stripped down, even plain song at the beginning, it grows into a theatrical, symphonic piece. Continuing with a theme of variety par excellence, “Round Yellow Suitcase” takes the listener down a nostalgic path. The piano sounds like it just rolled out of a 1920s juke joint. David’s vocals come back with a lonely, confident solo. The minor turns show a familiarity with jazz that moves pretty far from the band’s roots. But in this case, it’s a welcome disjuncture. There’s an ambiance in the song that’s a bit Old World, a bit New Orleans, and uniquely Cicada Rhythm. It exemplifies the flexibility and beauty of Americana. To borrow their own lyric, “it’s like licking honey from the comb.”
“The Farmer” sways and that bass sounds exquisite. “Because of you the land was dry…” goes on to explore the relationship between man and the earth. It’s a traditional folk story, filled in with great vocals and some pretty amazing steel guitar. If you miss the days when country music was really about rural life and the hardscrabble realities of America, this is your song. What an impeccable embrace of life “just livin’ to work from dust to dust.”
“Werewolf” has a nice rolling fingerpicking part that introduces more of David’s clever lead. It’s a kind of silly song that, if I measure right, is a metaphor although I’m not sure how to unpack it. I think it’s about shifting identity. But it’s a fun one and has some of the best harmonies on the album. The powerful bow-played bass on “Do Not Destroy” reminded me most of what I heard of Cicada Rhythm’s earlier work. It’s a song full of natural imagery and a feeling of peaceful contentment.
All told this is a great Americana album. I’ve cued some of my clear favorites here, but it’s the kind of high class Americana that we don’t hear all the time. There are no banjos or songs about moonshine. This is a record that challenges ideas of genre and standard song structures. It incorporates jazz and modern rock stylings in unexpected places. But what it does more than anything is sooth the soul with truly unique soundscapes, layered over with thought-provoking lyrics. This is an impressive debut. And seriously if you read this far without listening to “Static in My Dreams” you just have to go listen to it.