Goodparley & Poppy Jennings – Enjoying Nature

Enjoying Nature is the third album in Strategic Tape Reserve’s Learning By Listening series, “an educational, instructive cassette series designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain.” Previous volumes have focussed on obscure, un-Googleable, audaciously false topics: Orca, Attack! delivered an album about Course Management System Optimization and Simon Proffitt’s Instituto Bangara-Rossa Internacional offered up a sonic handbook for a purportedly widely-played card game.

If Learning By Listening has generally operated with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, the pairing of Goodparley (Cardiff’s Oli Richards) and Poppy Jennings seems to avoid this, at least musically anyway. The album’s narrative describes it playfully as a “mystical guide to the art of experiencing nature… for both those comfortable with outdoor environments as well as beginners,” and Richards readily admits it was started in jest before eventually becoming more sincere.

Taking the form of a series of delicate and quietly uplifting pieces, Enjoying Nature operates authentically in resonance with the spiritual music oeuvre. Both Richards and Jennings offer ruminative spoken word passages that float on top of the music like guided meditation texts or naturalistic poetic reflections, while Richards’ choice of textures carry a questing, transcendent fluidity. On ‘Walking Each Other Home’, cascading zither melodies wrap themselves around the listener with tenderness, evoking spiritual music landmarks like Laraaji’s Day Of Radiance. The opening track acts as a tribute to the work of Ernest Hood, whose obscure 1975 album Neighborhoods evoked a pastoral quietude that has now been all but drowned-out by the clamour of the modern world.

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Learning By Listening albums are puzzling affairs. They are meant to be enjoyed primarily through a suspension of belief; once you acknowledge the joke, they can be approached as intelligent, artistic collections. Enjoying Nature is, I think, different.

Heard with an open mind, its pieces can be soothing, helpful and restorative. I’ll readily admit that my mind has all too often been closed to spiritual music, and if you’d handed me this tape two years ago I would have found it a difficult listen. Things changed as the pandemic settled in. With the benefit of hindsight, I now see that I experienced a breakdown that I never would have expected. In the hollow void that it left, I found myself urgently in need of something to help me get myself back on track.

The books that I’d tried to read but couldn’t find a way into (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind being the most obvious) and the meditation practice I’d always been too closed-minded and uptight to surrender to – these things suddenly became essential, necessary aspects of my recovery. I found myself in a message exchange with Richards where he recommended Be Here Now by Ram Dass, which I quickly bought and digested far quicker than any other book that I’ve bought in the last ten years. I found myself working with my good friends Gareth Jones and Christopher Bono, first on their Nous Alpha album A Walk In The Woods and then with Christopher on his monumental Circle Of Celebration album with Arji OceAnanda and Laraaji. I found myself open-minded for the first time in my life; more accepting; more understanding of my mind’s wants and needs; more prepared to find ways to heal myself outside of the coping strategies I’d used before.

I see Enjoying Nature as part of my toolkit of recovery. A greater personal compliment to what Richards and Jennings have created with this release I’m not sure I could find.

Enjoying Nature by Goodparley and Poppy Jennings was released by Strategic Tape Reserve on September 24 2021.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2021 Further.

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.