A month ago SPIN debuted its new, redesigned, bi-monthly format. As both a music editor and a former writer of music reviews for SPIN, I was curious about it, though in a personal-low-stakes kind of way. If I were still freelancing for SPIN, I’d worry about their decision to remove most reviews from the print edition, but now that I’m full-time employed I can enjoy it as a reader and music fan (disclosure: I wrote a review for SPIN’s website last month).
I also wanted to check out their ambitious print redesign as someone who does not buy print magazines. I let my SPIN subscription end. I haven’t had New York magazine since they gave it away for free with a MediaBistro subscription. I owned a Kindle and now I have an iPad but that whole obsession with the touch and feel of real things has never, ever, twinged me except when it comes to say antique furniture and leather shoes. (When people mention these things when lovingly talking about magazines or records I simultaneously hear Zooey Dechanel’s ‘Cotton’ song and picture that scene in Amelie where she sticks her paw in some beans.) The touch and feel of a real iPad is all I need.
So, the redesigned SPIN. It was made to be purchased as a physical thing, and it does feel great in your hands — there’s thick paper stock, rich, matte ink, and a pleasant gasoline-like chemical smell. SPIN wants you to hold it in your arms and manhandle it a little bit, like a Lana Del Rey song (the ‘opening act’ letter even asks you to drop it on your coffee table). Everything Type Company, who redesigned the magazine, simplified the cover and removed a lot of the text, which brings it more in line with their old design actually.
Getting inside, you see an immediate commitment to diversity in its pages. Past the lily-white Sleigh Bells on the fold-out cover, Frank Ocean and Santigold are the first two faces you see. There’s also a commitment to covering a lot more than music: the table of contents teases film coverage, a television show review, a newsy SOPA story, art and comic book coverage. Plus old sections, like In My Room and a labeled but very similar to “Breaking Out” are still in there.
And now to the writing itself: The long, reported, piece by David Bevan on K-Pop’s structure and ambitions is truly awesome. Likewise, I enjoyed Simon Reynold’s essay on Lana Del Rey, a ”free-floating half-life, or afterlife of pure style. Dated yet timeless beauty.” “Dated yet timeless” seems to be the theme the entire magazine bets on — there are no more album reviews, but it’s packed with longer essays, reported pieces, and long-form reviews. “Stories you can enjoy today and four months from now,” promises that same letter, which of course makes any essay about (or jumping off from) LDR hilarious in that, because of Internet Standard Time, she already felt dated by the time the magazine came out). Still, she’s more jumping-off than focus point in this piece about the cyclical nature of music trends. The next page has a gorgeous color-coded infographic on how genres reference past genres. (The company who made the infographic designed the rest of the magazine, and so the same bold, easy-to-read colors section off the magazine as well (example: the long reviews in the back are all in blue ink).
The few problems I had with this issue are also going to be dated, since they’re almost all issue-specific. For example, I don’t like Sleigh Bells on the cover, since, basically, everyone should have figured out that they are a good band without a backstory. There is nothing wrong with being nothing wild, but there is when you’re publishing a cover story about this gun-toting rock-and-roll band that is basically sibling-like, half-engaged, and perfectly sweet. Charles Aaron notes in his editor’s letter that the issue revolves around bands that “recombine signifiers” and man, Sleigh Bells are a band of purely visual signifiers if there ever was one.
I generally liked the Breaking Out-style pieces on Frankie Rose, Escort, Perfume Genius, etc., but they needed to be longer. I loved Breaking Out for the mini-stories and small, telling moments and details from each piece, and here there’s barely enough room for a few puns and a free-floating quote. The magazine, when I first flipped through it, made me think of a nerd with a brand new hot body, (like when Rachael Leigh Cook takes off her glasses in She’s All That, or like, T.I. when he puts his glasses on). But they will have to find the balance between good looks and good words. I don’t think these mini-features hit that balance.
Also there is a piece that consists of life advice from The Shins’ James Mercer, where he boldly reveals how he got older and finally got the self-confidence to FIRE ALL HIS BAND MEMBERS. The greatest love of all!
The remaining print reviews combine 2-3 releases into one tied-together piece. It turns their review section into another opportunity for deep-thinking and trend piecing. I do miss the cleverness and many different voices of their old print section.
Overall I like the redesign SPIN and the changes they’ve made. I will have to update this in four months to really know whether it is, as promised, filled with things I still want to read in four months. Perhaps then I will finally find every use of ”Lynchian” in the magazine (I found four already!). Now I’m off to check out the SPIN play app.