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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SPIN Is Big Again: Five Things We Like About the New Magazine

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 11:44 AM

SPIN: Now measuring 9.5 by 12 inches.
  • SPIN: Now measuring 9.5 by 12 inches.

In an effort to stay alive in an age where print mags, especially music-focused ones, are suffering, the venerable rag SPIN recently conducted a near-total redesign. Along with the company's new website -- which has been reconceived with a focus on timely news, reviews, and those controversial album-reviews-as-Tweets -- the mag's editors made substantial changes to the print edition. First, it's going to come out every other month, instead of monthly; the focus will be on stories and features with a longer shelf life than right now; most of the pages are rough instead of glossy; and the scope of coverage has expanded. Along with the new indie mainstream, SPIN is covering hip-hop acts like Black Hippy and going in depth on R&B-God-in-waiting Frank Ocean. There's even a feature about Korean pop, along with shorter pieces on comic books and film. Since subscribers have received their copies and newsstands should get them soon, check out five things we dig about the new SPIN, below, and afterward, a few things we don't.

1. The size

Obviously. This thing is much larger -- 112 slab-like pages measuring 9 1/2 by 12 inches -- and it feels meaty. (Also, expensive.) As the issue's intro brags, you drop this bound hunk of paper on a table and it makes a satisfying thud. That's a rare and wonderful feeling for a music magazine (or, hell, any mag that isn't Robb Report or the September Vogue) to make.

The new every-other-month SPIN on the left, and the every-other-week Rolling Stone on the right.
  • The new every-other-month SPIN on the left, and the every-other-week Rolling Stone on the right.

2. The look and feel

The new SPIN presents itself less like a celebrity-focused music mag and more like an art journal. The look is minimalist, with lots of stark, sans-serif fonts and enough empty space inside to sell $300 bluejeans. The (subscriber) cover is notably restrained, with just a few small headlines above a big, sly look from Sleigh Bells' Alexis Krauss. It screams nothing; instead, the pages of the new SPIN come to you with the schooled, passionate calm of someone who just put down a Greil Marcus tome. This magazine will even use words like "contextualizing" in a subheadline.

3. The themes

As has been the case for the last couple old-style issues of SPIN, each print issue will have a theme. We're discussing "The Now Issue," so named because it attempts to wrestle with the ideas and issues raised in Simon Reynolds' brilliant, fascinating, and aggravating book Retromania. Reynolds even writes the issue's main essay (on Lana Del Rey, of course). Past SPIN issue themes have been strong as well, with essays from big-name writers on the rise of electronic dance music and the new face of hip-hop. We just hope the mag's editors can keep finding new Big Ideas six times a year without them seeming forced.

Ahh, magazines: Still cheaper than a huge computer monitor.
  • Ahh, magazines: Still cheaper than a huge computer monitor.

4. The little boxes accompanying the brief artist profiles

After the main Sleigh Bells feature, the mag introduces a number of artists under the "Pastpresentfuture" theme. Many of these (Escort, Perfume Genius, Frankie Rose) come with a box that lists the artist's new release under "Gotta Have It" and offers stylistic comparisons under "Kinda reminds you of." The kicker is that these comparisons are dead-on and often funny: SPIN says Black Hippy, the L.A. rap group, will remind you of "Souls of Mischief with older souls, Freestyle Fellowship wearing Death Row chains, when rap groups were great." The two L-VIS 1990 releases mentioned might remind you of "Frankie Knuckles, Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, peaking on a first date." Which pretty much says it all. SPIN is simultaneously rejiggering the album review with its Twitter feed, but these nuggets often do a short, positive sum-up more elegantly: This is what you need, this is what it feels like.

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Ian S. Port

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