I received an issue of Car and Driver in the mail the other day. That in and of itself is not exactly a column-worthy pronouncement, except for the accompanying bland note of apology to SPIN magazine subscribers (of which your correspondent is—make that was—one) stating that SPIN was ceasing print publication immediately, but not to worry, there will instead be an issue of Car and Driver in my mailbox every month until my subscription runs out. Au revoir!
And with that last surreal gesture, yet another music magazine bites the dust. (Note: there will still be an online component of SPIN.) Among mainstream “rock” publications, SPIN was one of the better titles, true, but there are still many fine music publications available to assist in collection development and acquisitions. Put aside Billboard and Entertainment Weekly; you need to cast your net a little further out. Here are eight titles to consider.
The Big Takeover (BT)
Writer and musician Jack Rabid has been covering his favorite music in BT since 1980, and he carries that fiercely independent zine spirit through to every page of the now-sprawling biannual editions. Long-form historical pieces, generous coverage of up-and-comers, and a huge reviews section are the highlights. Coverage tilts toward powerpop, classic punk, and indie rock’s janglier spectrum.
I used to write for this periodical, and the reason I did is the same reason I’m writing about it now—it is one of the only magazines regularly offering enthusiastic, savvy writing on hip-hop, punk, indie, and metal in the same issue, niche market research be damned. The hip-hop writing, especially, is top shelf.
It’s been quite rightly mocked for its constant flood of Beatles/Who/Beach Boys covers (is there really anynew ground left to turn over?). MOJO, though, is still to be valued for its stable of writers, “How To Buy” series, long features on obscure but historically important artists, and definitive interviews with bigger names like legends Leonard Cohen and Neil Young.
This mag is recommended because it takes a long view of punk as a continually developing and changing body of music instead of the usual moaning about how it all was “all over by 1979, maaaaaan.” Interviews are lengthy, conversational, and funny, and the reviews section is choice reading.
Ugly Things (UT)
This obsessive, book-length tome is more rock and roll than most magazines, but, paradoxically, its focus is the time period before rock became the big important commodity that it is now. Which is to say that garage-rock knuckleheads, psychedelic scumbags, and freakbeat weirdos get pride of place in its pages. UT is an endless font of invaluable information on the wildest corners of early rock.
Wax Poetics (WP)
WP might be close to the best thing going in print music journalism. Crafting a carefully researched and compellingly told historical continuum from soul to funk to disco to R&B and rap, the glossy, digest-sized Wax is a crucial read for any serious music enthusiast. Titans of music share equal space with more radical up-and-comers. The all-Prince issue (No. 50, Winter 2012) stands out as a particular highlight for me.
Yeah, experimental music bible The Wire admittedly is wonky to the extreme. But this UK-based journal delves intensively into overlooked and avant-garde music of all stripes, from classical to full-on noise. Yet what other glossy mag would jump from articles on free jazz titan Charles Gayle and outer-limits rapper Kool Keith to a primer on how to buy black metal and an appreciation of an avant-garde player-piano composer who quit making music to fight in the Spanish Civil War? There’s a huge, insightful reviews section as well.
Zero Tolerance (ZT)
Literate, fiercely opinionated, and passionate, this metal rag shows that we’ve come a loooooong way from the dark embarrassments of Metal Edge and Circus. A dedicated cadre of writers covers all things extreme (and drops the occasional bigger name) in death metal, black metal, thrash metal, noise, and industrial. It’s important for murkier subgenres like this to have an authoritative source of coverage and reviews, and ZT is a great place to start.