Orca, Attack! – C.M.S.O.

Orca, Attack! is a long-running, on-off, whale-admiring pairing of Elizabeth Joan Kelly and David Rodriguez. Both New Orleans musicians have parallel solo careers, and both find themselves dealing with a combination of technology, abject panic and general electronic music subversiveness. Together, their self-proclaimed “swamp-rock-meets-space-opera-and-folk” leanings as Orca, Attack!, in practice, sound nothing like that; it helps to approach their new release knowing that they have a penchant for tongue-in-cheek wryness. 

C.M.S.O. is a compact, six-track album released by the venerable Strategic Tape Reserve. The release is the label’s inaugural cassette in a series called Learning By Listening, purporting to be an educational initiative that builds up almost like a periodical subscription, or the separately-purchased volumes of an encyclopaedia “designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain”. This first release covers something called ‘Course Management System Organization’. 

Fun, right? Try Googling it. 

The thing is, it all sounds plausible. These days you can whack any four vaguely corporate-sounding words together, create an acronym and let it live. In years to come, there may well arise a concept called Course Management System Organization, and Kelly and Rodriguez will be hailed as its lauded originators, but for now you have to accept that this is an educational tape about something that doesn’t exist. We live in a world of misinformation and mistruths; what’s real and what’s fake have become indistinguishable, giving rise to a weird sense of being in both a Kafka novel and an Escher picture at the same time. Once you accept that, see the joke and listen to this for what it is, you can have a blast with the pieces here. Life is way too short to be so serious all the time, after all. 

With academically-infused titles (‘Abstract’, ‘Introduction’, ‘Literature Review’, ‘Conclusion’, ‘Limitations’, ‘Ethical Approval’), these pieces acknowledge the influence of Raymond Scott, beloved inventor of electronic instruments, unlikely jazz band leader and a composer whose distinctive approach leant itself to use in madcap cartoons – in short, the kind of avant garde personality we’re sorely missing in these uptight 2020s. You hear the overhang of Scott’s approach in a sort of playful bounce in these pieces, each of which find itself on an odd frontier between wide-eyed synth experiments and science documentary soundtrack. Both Kelly and Rodriguez contribute vocals, either as spoken-word, instructive lecture-esque monologues, or as angelic harmonies sweeping high above the accompanying electronic backdrops, or as processed, gradually slowed-down, indecipherable non sequiturs. 

C.M.S.O. might lack any sort of educational substance, and its twenty-minute, CliffsNotes brevity might well be a generally pessimistic statement on our ability to concentrate for long periods of time; look beyond what it might or might not be trying to tell you, and its masqueraded seriousness is a huge amount of much-needed, liberating fun.  

C.M.S.O. by Orca, Attack! is released April 16 2021 by Strategic Tape Reserve 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2021 Further.