The Believer: The 2012 Music Issue
While the digital revolution has undoubtedly transformed the publishing industry, weeding out the redundant and mediocre, there has been a simultaneous increase in the number of niche and carefully crafted magazines on the market. McSweeney’s, the San Francisco-based publishing world bad-boy founded by the inimitable Dave Eggers, has been a consistent leader in the field, publishing a number of quarterly and monthly titles that collectively redefine our expectations of what a magazine can and should be, both in terms of content and design. The Believer is McSweeney’s most broad-based offering, with a mandate to cover an expansive arts and culture beat, while retaining the eclecticism, quirk and literary undertones that are the publisher’s signature. We look forward to The Believer’s thematic double issues, published three times annually, as they offer a novel perspective on the state of a particular aspect of popular culture – art, film or music – and typically contain an added treat in the form of a DVD or a special insert. This summer’s music issue is no different and is notable in its undeniably unusual content; the best part about The Believer is that you have no idea what to expect from month to month and are consistently surprised and delighted.
Like all issues of The Believer, the latest contains a compelling compendium of writers and illustrators who use an assortment of styles and methodologies in their approach to music criticism and writing. From a poem by Bob Hicok, a series of microinterviews with Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland, a visual history of signatures in pop music by Dave Mandl, and Anthony Heilbut’s extensive essay on the male soprano, the 2012 Music Issue is unquestionably a multifarious offering. The comics pages, assembled by industry veteran Alvin Buenaventura, presents a welcome interlude from the lengthy literary contributions and pleasantly affects the pacing of the issue. The writing is of exceptionally high quality – something we’ve come to expect from everything imprinted with the McSweeney’s moniker – and proves that some forms of writing remain best treated and considered on the printed page.
We were incredibly charmed when the issue arrived with a mixtape, Love Songs for Lamps, affixed to the cover; we are so accustomed to digital music that the cassette made us nostalgic for the early days of fashioning our own mixes by recording songs off of the radio. Rest assured if you threw out your tape player and Walkman eons ago, there is a digital version that can be downloaded with a code provided in the magazine. The tape is an interesting mix of artists that you know – Hysterics, Priests, Shiva – and those that may be unfamiliar – Broken Water, Baby Island – and is a nod to the notion that you can’t authentically publish a music magazine without some actual aural content. The Believer has organized a Love Songs for Lamps tour in support of the issue which further extends the reach of the magazine and challenges the notion that the content of a periodical is limited to what is written between its pages. The issue also includes a postcard encouraging readers’ participation in a collaborative project instigated by the Art Guys, which creates yet another type of experience that is initiated by picking up the magazine.
The design of The Believer is equally as interesting as its contents. The comics-style, chaotic cover treatment belies its beautifully consistent and minimalist interior. With its colour-tipped pages and classic serif fonts, the magazine fuses a contemporary aesthetic with a decidedly retro sensibility, and the top-notch quality of the paper greatly contributes to its overall feel. The Believer is a powerful reminder of the potency of the magazine as a design object, and the joy that can be derived from holding it and flipping through its well-curated and exquisitely produced pages.