“Spin” Is Out Standing In A Field

Apr 25th, 2008 // 3 Comments

mmjspin.jpgOnce again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by a writer who’s contributed to many
of those magazines, as well as a few others
! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Spin:

So, according to Crain’s New York Business, only one of the four magazines regularly assessed in this space showed any ad growth in the first quarter of 2008: Spin Magazine, which by some estimates should be the one of the four most vulnerable to the various depredations of the Internet: indie rock fans under 25 seemed long ago to settle into the multifarious fora where they could argue endlessly over the relative merits of Modest Mouse and Built to Spill.

But Keyboard Krybaby guesses that Spin‘s brain trust must have embraced the Pitchfork model, or at least accepted that its core purpose is to cover indie-rock musicians. “Let the competition try to be all things to all people,” the thinking would go, “and we will appeal to readers who identify heavily–almost exclusively–with middle-class bohemians playing housebroken variations of different kinds of rock and roll music of the past thirty years.”

The current indie rock Diaspora often reminds KK of the folk boom of the early ’60s: collegiate and post-collegiate artists and audiences congratulating themselves for their rugged independence and purity of intent while seldom evincing interest or otherwise having contact with anyone different from themselves. As much as Rolling Stone, Blender and various “Jack” stations wouldn’t like it, most self-identified music fans aren’t generalists: the prominence of Pitchfork and god-knows-how-many blogs suggest that indie rock fans burrow into their niche and are content to stay there. “I listen to tons of different kinds of music” is inaccurate self-flattery right up there with “I have no compunctions about voting a black man for president.”

This is one of the reasons KK feels little kinship with indie-rock fans, but he certainly won’t begrudge Spin a strategy for selling advertising that has worked in the first four months of 2008 (in his newfound spirit of transparency, KK should say that he worked a few feet away from the office of then-Blender and current Spin publisher Malcolm Campbell in 2002-2003). Whether or not this translates into success on the newsstand, KK cannot say, but cultivating accounts like Virgin America and Patron suggests that Spin‘s ad staff has convinced “lifestyle” advertisers that they’re purchasing eyeballs.

In any case, the May 2008 Spin heralds the summer festival season: KK is fairly confident that hundreds of complimentary copies of this issue will contribute to untold thousands of pounds of garbage that custodians will remove from the site of Coachella this weekend. Like their hootenanny attending forebears 45 years ago, indie rock partisans love them some festivals!

Noted road dogs My Morning Jacket receive the imprimatur of Spin‘s cover. KK will take a moment here to say that, like the band, he comes from Louisville. When he was coming up, hardcore punk rock bands and then Squirrel Bait and Slint were the big comers–southern rock and country were signifiers of redneck-ism that most punk/college rock types there wished to avoid. So it’s somewhat amusing that the most famous band currently from the town signifies the good ol’ boy paradigm. As far as KK is concerned, take the Neil Young out of MMJ, replace it with Alice in Chains, and you’re left with LATE ’90S Louisville acoustic grunge band Days of the New.

If the preceding sounds like KK doesn’t much care for MMJ, that would be correct. He’s predisposed toward southern rock and country music, but MMJ (and Kings of Leon, for that matter) have always struck him as hugely dull. So while he’s never quite understood why indie-rockers dig ‘em, in the telling of John McAlley’s “The James Gang,” Jim James and his band of recent recruits seem amiable, if not hugely interesting. (McAlley correctly notes that “despite its reputation as the sour mash mecca of the South, Louisville is as centrally located as any city as there is in America,” or, as a local writer put it once, “Louisville is a midwestern town with southern pretensions.”)

In any case, the Summer of Live package proceeds with “the Crowd Pleasers,” quick interviews with seven acts–Death Cab for Cutie, Tapes ‘n Tapes, Flight of the Conchords, Nicole Atkins, No Age, Black Kids and Spiritualized–who expound on the festival experience. Most agree that “the hang” for festivalgoers is more important than the indignities of 45-minute sets with malfunctioning monitors.

Having apparently concluded his “the rock and roll experience of my youth was the last authentic one” series in this magazine, contributor David Browne weighs in on the surfeit of American indie-rock festivals in the next six months in “Outside Chance.” Browne notes that too many festivals may spread many acts too thin, that this season seems to lack the big reunion of years past like the Pixies and Rage Against the Machine (KK thinks that his and Ms. Johnston’s beloved Stone Pimple Toilets weren’t gone long enough to qualify), and that many festival promoters are not utopian idealists (a contract for New Jersey’s All Points West specifies that acts cannot play shows within 70 miles of the festival from the time it’s announced until 90 days after its conclusion).

And now a quick word for Bob Mehr’s “Unsatisfied,” a profile which beats the drum for a reunion by one of the few holdouts of the alt-rock golden age: the Replacements. KK has sympathy for Mehr, since a.) his article appears at around the same time as an identically intended piece in Billboard.com and b.) he’s at work on a book on the Replacements shortly after the publication of Jim Walsh’s oral history of the band, All Over But the Shouting. That the evidence of this piece indicates that Mehr’s prospective book, unlike Walsh’s, will have input from Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson is cold comfort in a market for books that probably won’t support two histories on this one band.

idolator

  1. Camp Tiger Claw

    Comparing MMJ to Kings of Leon is weak on any grounds other than geography or hirstuteness.

  2. Captain Wrong

    Naah, he’s right. They’re both boring as fuck.

  3. Clevertrousers

    It’s kinda sad that Spin’s indie narrowcasting strategy works so well… I’m old, so I remember Spin back in the ’80s and it was amazingly eclectic and adventurous. Hell, they helped put outsider weirdos like Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston into the alt/indie canon… and they were covering world, reggae, latin, alt.country, etc. when no other mainstream music mag would touch the stuff… hell, they even helped break rap to whitefolks… I guess they gotta do what they do to survive, but it still seems really diminished to me…

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