Ever since I first tuned in to the solo work of Chicago lo-fi tape artist Jeff Walls, I’ve been starting to think that the effects of the internet on our listening habits go beyond the generational ADHD our elders are so fond of teasing us about. In addition to shortening our musical attention spans, it seems to be having the counterintuitive effect of making us return to formats and recording technologies that pre-date the digital age–or at least music that approximates the sound of doing so. Could it be because we are the last generation that actually remembers a world before itunes? And we feel a responsibility, somewhere, to preserve the memory of those warm and cuddly dark ages for our children, and our children’s children? When the man behind Campfires sent me his “Stormy Late Fall” 7 inch a few months ago, I immediately recognized him as one of the many emerging millennium artists to channel both of these impulses into a single strip of magnetic tape. Moreover, I remember being struck by the fact that while most of his songs seemed to peace out after hitting the two-minute mark (if not earlier), they packed a very rich and lasting punch.
Now that I have had the pleasure of hearing his full-length “Burning Rivers, TV Flickers, Drifting Off to Bed” tape, released on Leftist Nautical Antiques last week, I am tempted to tack on yet another observation about Jeff Walls, who seems to be something of an armchair internet philosopher himself. While his songs seem almost tailor made for our impatient ears, so accustomed to clicking from one MP3 or one YouTube video to the next (often in mid-song), Campfires goes the extra mile and does the work for us. If we, his audience, seem unable to avoid leveraging the internet to chase fleeting moments of musical gratification (a painfully well-timed drum break here, a lovely wah wah guitar sigh there), it may be because, without even realizing it, we are using the Web to actively construct our own musical narratives. And Walls seems to predict this, minting eight fuzzed-out musical moments that we just can’t get enough of and then stringing them together to recount his own: “The events in these songs all occur in one evening in a place that is mostly imaginary but is a lot like my hometown in southwestern Michigan. As the day rolls into night each little fragment of a story is swept up like dry leaves into the darkening sky.” Funny thing is, rather than click on to the next artist, all we want to do is keep on listening.
A song from the album, just to make you wonder what will come next:
Campfires, “It’s Been So Long” (Burning Rivers, TV Flickers, Drifting Off to Bed, Leftist Nautical Antiques)
Words: Emilie Friedlander
Purchase Burning Rivers, TV Flickers, Drifting Off to Bed from Leftist Nautical Antiques.