Posted in music

Tift Merritt – Traveling Alone (Review)

So Tift Merritt has a new album out, which is always welcome news. She’s with yet another in a series of record labels (do we care which one? No), and this time there was a full use of social media to pre-publicise the album. Naturally, this was extremely annoying. From memory, we went from the announcement of the new album in the spring, via an all-acoustic single (Sweet Spot), another single (To Myself), a free sampler download (a different recording of Sweet Spot and In the Way), a load of limited edition ancillary product such as a notebook and playing cards (for the “whales”), and finally the album itself, available in standard, bonus track, and vinyl and probably pottery versions.

There were sneak previews, YouTube videos, online streams, and lots and lots of tweets. By the week before release, I was tweeting back, “Just release it already and stop pissing around with marketing.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding such “modern” marketing tactics deeply irritating, and I have to say my reaction upon finally being informed by iTunes that I could actually download the album was a little bit meh.

All this in the absence of a music press that could just carry a, you know, advert. Not that Tift Merritt is the sort of artist who gets much in the way advertising. I mean, it’s nice that a small label can use free social media tools to get the word out, but there is a limit to how much of this you can take.

Author Charlie Stross tweeted the other day that he can’t stand watching commercial television because of the advertising, but doesn’t bat an eyelid about tweeting his own publicity. Fine, I can unfollow, and I could unfollow Tift Merritt, but then I might not hear anything about new records at all. iTunes’ notification service emailed me this morning, whereas the album was available to pre-order a month ago.

I hate, hate, hate the feeling that something has been watched or listened to for me before I get to see/hear it for myself, so all the pre-release streaming and sneak previews just piss me off. I want to listen in my own way and in my own time, thanks, and I especially don’t want to read some critic’s ill-considered instant reaction to a freebie.

(Fucking Faith Hill arranged a Sunday night Twitter listening party for her new single – which of course is not available to UK downloaders. And whose Sunday night, anyway? Mine? Hers? John Paul Getty’s? It’s so irritating when Americans act as if the internet was a US-only thing, and not a global service – across all time zones.)

What nonsense release dates are in the iTunes age! What nonsense the concept of the album is. My iTunes library is now heaving with duplicate tracks, slightly different versions, different “album” titles all to do with Traveling Alone. So as well as the constant irritating teasing and endless grind of tweets, I’ve now got to spend time tidying up my fucking library.

Two years ago, I received Ms Merritt’s previous release See You on the Moon and played it about 20 times in a row. For this album, I put it on my iPod and listened in the car on the way to work (not a great way to hear the quieter acoustic numbers), and then played it in my classroom. I didn’t feel like playing it 20 times in a row, but that’s probably because the whole marketing thing put me in a bad mood.

So is it any good? Yes. I’ll prune it down from its 48 minutes, which is too long, but I’ve already identified a number of early favourites. You won’t care what they are, but I’ll say this: the August-release single “To Myself” is definitely one of the stronger tracks. It seems to me that (if you insist on doing “albums” and “singles”) it would have been smarter to put it out as a single to support the actual album release, rather than two months before it was available. Hey, but what do I know? I’m just a fucking expert.

It seems the sounds range from grungier rockier songs to folk tinged with country. Pedal steel guitar is more evident on this release than it has been on anything since her first album Bramble Rose, ten years ago.

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World famous writer labouring in obscurity. My other blog is a Porsche.