In an interview with the Chicago Reader, Campfires’ Jeff Walls says the beauty of lo-fi versus other types of rock is like that of a hand-drawn illustration compared to a font. Though a great simile, this album is a watercolor painting: the individual elements are rough-edged and overlap messily at times, but blend to create texture and interesting shades while still keeping the work light. It is airy but yet unarguably substantial.
This is the fifth full-length album from Jeff Walls as Campfires, the third to come from him in the span of a year alone. Though he plays live with a band (the current incarnation includes two members of Portland’s Hausu) he recorded these albums solo. Walls had been part of the Chicago scene until his recent move to Portland, which has been a great move for him creatively.
All of Campfires’ full-length albums are worth acquiring (and are free or very affordable through his Bandcamp page), but Wall shows favor on Tomorrow, Tomorrow for melodic hooks rather than the noisy soundscapes present on his previous work. The album is cleaner and more refined than last fall’s Laurentide and the sound is also less obscured by the pretty-yet-hazy production of last summer’s Mystery Scapes. All Campfires’ albums carve a clear path showing Walls’ evolution in songwriting and production. The destination seems to be a cleaner, pared-down version of his earlier work. There is true evolution within the signature sound Walls has sculpted.
Walls’ lo-fi renaissance brings forth a fresh, unique sound, pushing gain in his amplifiers rather than using manufactured pedal fuzz that many of his contemporaries are using. His simple, organic layering of instruments is lush; the album makes the most of the true warmth of the vintage tube amps he employs for Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Picks of the litter are “Fortune Teller” with its 60s pop sensibility and sense of fun, “Simple Things” for its syncopated jangle and playful nature that juxtapose the wistful lyrics, and the stompy “Time for a Ride” with its strong rhythm and sweet simplicity.
Walls hits a perfect balance in blending new and old. The album is a sort of rock and roll history lesson, a beautiful melting pot of 60s British mod-pop, 70s post-punk, 80s college, and 90s alternative. Happy tambourine shaking and simple repetitive hooks have the charm of Ray Davies’ work. Raw vocals walk Jeff Mangum’s tightrope between singing and yelling. The lo-fi purity echoes the Woods’ earlier albums (sans falsetto and psyched-out solos, of course). It also has the tone and breathing room between notes not unlike the lo-fi pioneer Pavement’s earliest work on Westing (By Musket and Sextant).
Though not technically similar, there is also something about this album that evokes similar emotions as the Feelies’ Time For a Witness, and Camper Van Beethoven’s Telephone Landslide Victory. The evocative nature of the album has a newness and a sense of nostalgia all at once which brings the listener back again and again to rediscover it.