already dead tapes & records


Curt Oren

For Sam, Forever Ago

August 1, 2018

Artist Location:
Chicago, IL

“The debut album from Curt Oren feels like a life cycle. The title, ‘For Sam, Forever Ago,’ is a tribute to his childhood pet dog, so it would be natural to assume the release represents Sam’s lifespan. While that’s probably true to an extent, the end result somehow feels all too relatable and universal to be about one specific situation or being.

The Midwest-based musician has made a name for himself as a bit of jokester, with an inside joke revolving around a customized hat culminating in Oren renting out space on a Cedar Rapids billboard celebrating his new hat. These antics garnered the Iowa City native a lot of attention on the internet a few years ago. Listeners expecting to hear the musical equivalent of that may or may not get what they want, depending on how the hat struck them: while there is nary a joke to be found on this release, the crossover into art that something like the hat stunt required may prepare listeners who identified with the performative aspect.

Now apparently living in Chicago, Oren was previously seen on the Already Dead Tapes release ‘Honeysuckle’ alongside drummer Joe Hess as the duo Fuck Lungs earlier this year. That exceptional release found the two taking freejazz into interesting and exciting territory, no small feat for a genre already by its very nature pushing the envelope. Oren now returns with a series of recordings that mimic emotions through feeling rather than description. When there are lyrics, they are generally few, gentle yet heavy (i.e. a choir repeating the phrase “it’s simple, peace on earth” bringing to mind Jim O’Rourke’s rendition of “women of the world, take over.”). At other times voices indecipherably skitter in and out of the mix amongst other ambient sounds. Sound bites appear throughout.

Instrumentally, Oren’s primary axe the sax often takes center stage, but there is a wide variety of instrumentation throughout the pieces. Flute, acoustic guitar, and percussion all make appearances. The woodwinds are sometimes manipulated and there may be some synths and/or samplers at play. Some portions of tracks become really wound up in a flurry of sound—see the middle of the previously mentioned “It’s Simple (peace on earth)”—while others contain as much space as the wilderness, fittingly on the more calming sounds of both “River” and “Prairie.”

As for the proposed conceptual life cycle feel of the recording, it’s not so much that the release plots out an exact sequence of life as much as it feels as though it contains representations of stages of life: a soundtrack to how one would remember a fall day, the score to reflecting on what the transition between different phases felt like, a snapshot here and there. Perhaps it’s because the release is bookended by “Man Made Hate,” a gradually building piece constructed around beautiful harmony—the very harmony the title of the track defies—and “I Will Protect You,” a gentle acoustic number featuring a recording of Curt’s sister reading a list of their dog Sam’s characteristics followed by a couple minutes of what sounds like slow breathing amid nocturnal insects. This is how the record ends.

Undoubtedly the release is abstract enough that everyone could walk away with a different impression. This is just one of them. But it should be a positive experience for anyone with an imagination and a little love in their heart.”
-Peter Cook, Already Dead Tapes, 2018

Vinyl Edition of 300
Cassette Edition of 100