Column 346: Re-Magnetized: The Return of Magnet Magazine
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
About three or so years ago, in what was a reflection not only of the dwindling music industry but the downward spiral of the print magazine world, I received what I thought was the final issue of Magnet magazine.
What is Magnet? Magnet was the quarterly bible of the indie music world, a slacker’s guidepost to everything cool, a critical lighthouse in a sea of audio mediocrity. Every issue was a snapshot of what was hot and happening right now in indie music. Each issue launched with an in-depth cover story that led into smaller profiles on bands and musicians just getting noticed, updates on those that have been around awhile, and, of course, pages and pages of reviews of records that you hadn’t heard before, all capped off with an essay by acerbic scribe Phil Sheridan, who wrote from a vantage point every one of us could recognize.
Magnet launched in 1993, and I have no idea how I found my first issue, which I still have, stuffed in a box somewhere in my attic (I probably bought it at Homer’s). It joined an already crowded magazine rack that included hip, cool, but physically unreadable (because of its design) Raygun, the slick and concise Option, and the other bible of indie, Alternative Press. Of those three, only A.P. is still around. Magnet was the best of the bunch, the most in-the-know and the most critically important and accurate.
For a band to be featured in Magnet, well, that was a big deal, especially if it was an Omaha band. And to be reviewed in Magnet was sort of an honor. Remember, this was before the prominence of the internet (Yes, kiddos, there was a time before Pitchfork, when people actually read these things called magazines).
We all knew, for example, that Saddle Creek Records was onto something when Magnet began to take notice.
“Magnet was one of the first magazines to do a Bright Eyes feature,” said Saddle Creek Records executive Robb Nansel. “I remember I was working my ‘real’ job when Magnet called me at work to set up the photo shoot for that article (right around the release of Letting Off the Happiness (in 1998)). There was a lot going on for the label at that time, and it wasn’t long after that phone call that I put in my resignation.”
Reviews and features about other Saddle Creek artists soon followed in Magnet, and shortly after that, the rest of the world began to take notice of what was going on in Omaha. Those reviews weren’t always terribly positive. In fact, Magnet didn’t offer a rating system, just narrative and descriptions, which oftentimes left you wondering if the writer liked the album or not. But that was part of the appeal (to me, anyway) – Magnet left it up to you do decipher.
Anyway, about three years ago, new issues of Magnet quit arriving at my door. No real explanation was given but I knew the magazine hadn’t folded. In fact, their website – magnetmagazine.com – continued to be updated. After a year went by, however, I figured I’d seen the last of the printed version.
And then out of the blue last Friday there it was, peeking out of my mailbox, a fresh new issue of Magnet featuring those shaggy boys from Wilco on the cover — same design, same slick perfect-bound publication, as if it had never gone away.
Magnet Editor-in-Chief Eric T. Miller explained it all on page 4. It turned out that the declining music and publishing industry had finally caught up with them. The publication took a short hiatus to redesign the Magnet website. That hiatus became extended when injuries sustained by the publication’s art director — Miller’ wife — put a wrench in overall operations. Things looked bleak as to the magazine’s return, and then out of the blue, Miller ran into Alex Mulcahy, an old friend whose company, Red Flag Media, publishes metal magazine Decibel. And the next thing you know, Magnet was back, but this time as a monthly instead of a quarterly.
There are a few other changes. The publication seems thinner and some sections are missing along with some writers, but the profiles are there (including stories on Neon Indian, Tommy Keene, Spank Rock, Beauty Pill, Mac McCaughan, Das Racist amd Thundercat), a Q&A with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and a lengthy cover story with Wilco. And of course, those reviews. Though now each review also includes a 10-star rating, which takes away a lot of the mystery. But I guess in this era when bands live and die by a Pitchfork 10-point rating system, adjustments had to be made, even though ratings dissuade people from reading the actual reviews.
My favorite part is the return of Phil Sheridan’s “Back Page” column, which starts off: “We know what you’re thinking, and it’s wrong, as usual: Now that 1995 is back, here comes Magnet to cover the bands it already covered to death. Literally.”
So true, Phil, so true. All’s I know is that Magnet is back, and hopefully this time it’s for good. Because in an age when we’re all tethered to electronic gizmos that put every conceivable piece of information at our fingertips — including the music that we listen to — it’s nice to be able to turn off the screen, unplug the electronic world, pull back the cover of something tangible that we can hold in our hands — whether it’s a book, or a copy of The Reader, or an issue of Magnet – and just read.
And, Robb Nansel put it, “Magnet exposed us to tons of great music when we were growing up, and I am definitely happy to see them carrying on.”
So am I.
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At the end of her interview with Arizona State University’s State Press, Maria Taylor (of Azure Ray, Bright Eyes and her own solo fame) dropped this little unexpected tidbit:
State Press: What is the first thing you are going to do for yourself once your tour is over?
Maria Taylor: Well, the first thing I am going to do is find out if I am having a boy or a girl! I haven’t really told any of the press yet, so why not? I can tell people now, you know, it’s been three months. I feel like, I might have to sit down sometimes during the set so I might have to explain anyway. This is going to be a different tour, very different. No drinking, I’m just tired and kind of sick. But I just decided, “No, I gotta do this, this is what I do. I gotta go on tour.” But now I’m kind of like, “Oh my god, did I take on too much?” It’s going to be kind of hard. So, literally the day after the tour I’m going to the doctor to find out if it’s a boy or girl. Ah, crazy!
There were no obvious follow-up questions asked (read the whole interview here). Ask them yourself when Maria comes to town for a show at The Slowdown Oct. 30. Congratulations, Maria!
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Milagres at The Waiting Room, Oct. 19, 2011.
Counting myself and the opening band, there was probably around 20 people on hand for last night’s Milagres show at The Waiting Room — disappointing, but is anyone surprised?
The band isn’t exactly a household name. They obviously don’t get any radio play. The show didn’t get any press other than blog mentions (You call that “press”?). And it was a Wednesday night, with an opener — South of Lincoln — that’s new to the scene. So why did I think anyone would be there?
Milagres, by the way, was fantastic — a real find for anyone into the whole Beach House/Arcade Fire indie dream-rock sound. The Brooklyn five-piece, which included two keyboards, was honed but angelic, floating just beneath frontman Kyle Wilson’s brassy, sometimes falsetto vocals. I sat back and wondered which song they’ll perform during their inevitable appearance on Letterman or Kimmel (My pick would be the echoing, endless frontier melody of “Halfway,” the opening track to their latest release, Glowing Mouth, which you should track down and buy).
Despite the sparce crowd, the band was charming and gracious, playing a number of songs from the new album during their 45+ minute set, sprinkling in heartfelt compliments about Omaha along the way. “This is our first time in Omaha; hopefully it won’t be the last.”
There’s a lot of very good under-the-wire acts coming through over the next couple of weeks; including Future Islands (Wednesday, Nov. 2 at TWR), Peter Wolf Crier (Tuesday, Oct. 25 at TWR) and A.A. Bondy (Nov. 4 at TWR). Any of these bands, along with Milagres, would have been a coup for something like the MAHA Festival; all are bands I would seek out if I was going to SXSW next spring. Terrific bands with terrific albums. But I’m afraid no one is going to show up for these shows, either.
What’s the answer? The Reader no longer covers every good indie band that comes through town. Blame it on page count. Blame it on editorial direction. The same is probably true at the other local publications that cover music.
How does the word get out to the masses that they’re missing something that’s phenomenal, that we’re lucky to even get here? I don’t know. Lazy-i ain’t the answer. Maybe there isn’t an answer?
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Tonight Hear Nebraska brings Take Cover to The Slowdown. The program’s concept is simple: Nebraska musicians take turns covering a song by another Nebraska musician of their choice. Among the performers on this mostly solo acoustic night of music: All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, Eli Mardock, The Lepers, Anniversaire, Justin Lamoureux and Mitch Gettman along with a bunch of Lincoln performers playing songs by acts including Neva Dinova, Bright Eyes, Matthew Sweet and It’s True. The show starts at 8 and winds up around 1 a.m. (or later). Your $5 cover gets you in and goes to support Hear Nebraska. Seriously, you should go. More info here.
Also tonight, Lawrence band Major Games plays at The Barley Street Tavern. Major Games is a new project by Jeremy Sidener, a former member of classic ’90s bands Zoom and Panel Donor as well as Arthur Dodge and Danny Pound Band. Major Games carries on the ’90s noise-rock tradition (check out a track on the band’s Bandcamp page). Opening is Spell Talk and third TBA band. $5, 9 p.m.
And in addition to that, Peace of Shit returns to the O’Leaver’s stage tonight with Duluth band Low Forms, described as “Pete Biasi’s (Falcon Crest, Total Fucking Blood, Signal to Trust, tons of other shit) new band. Husker Du/Wipers style punk rock.” $5, 9:30 p.m. More info here.
And finally, tonight at The Brothers Lounge, it’s Joe Jack Talcum of The Dead Milkmen with Sam Locke-Ward & the Boo-Hoos and Well-Aimed Arrows. $5, 10 p.m. More info here.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.