Loop the loop

It's been a fairly fallow couple of weeks, culturally speaking. Aside from spending a little too much time wondering what the point is of Martin Amis's more recent work (a decision not entirely assisted by stumbling across a quote from the man himself, in which he stated that “I would certainly sacrifice any psychological or realistic truth for a phrase, for a paragraph that has a spin on it.”), we took a quick turn round the greatly improved Whitechapel Gallery. Little of the work therein lived up to its fine new setting, particularly not the facile daubings of Elizabeth Peyton, although some of the entrants in the painting edition of the East End Academy triennial were higly effective, most notably a sizeable abstract by Andy Harper.

Much relief, then, was to be found in the first issue of Loops, a new journal of long form music writing launched in a collaboration between Faber and Domino Records. Coming across like a Granta for the download generation, Loops boasts a score of features, incoporating fiction extracts, critical theory, tour diaries, poetry and interviews. In contrast to the hyperactive, attention grabbing efforts of more glossy music publications, there is an admirable lack of illustration (with the honourable exceptions of a gallery of photos from Kevin Cummins, a handful of David Shrigley sketches, and an odd wee cartoon strip from Liniers). Instead, the text is leavened with occasional typographic inserts based on pull quotes from the articles.

But enough of the appearance; the crucial element in such a venture is the quality of the writing, and on the whole, Loops succeeds. There are, unsurprisingly for such a broad selection, some clunkers (Hari Kunzru's impressionistic take on Moondog, whilst perhaps keeping close to the subject's eccentric nature, comes unfortunately close to the start of the magazine), but in general the articles are engaging and informative. Nick Kent's 1978 piece on Nick Drake, previously unpublished, manages to puncture some of the myths surrounding the young folk singer, whilst reaffirming his position in the English musical pantheon. Amanda Petrusich provides insight into the psychology of the serious record collector, conveying the notion that it is merely a few breaths away from a mental disorder. (Thankfully, her focus is on collectors of American 78s, the most famous amongst them probably being Robert Crumb, allowing those of us - mere amateurs in the eyes of the 78 collector - who dabble in vinyl, CDs or MP3s to feel slightly more relaxed about the music jones coursing through our minds.) It's also good to see extracts from Inky Fingers, the Observer Music Monthly's blog on the state of British music publishing, although it's perhaps an excerise in chutzpah too far to include the blog's thoughts on, yes, Loops.

This is not to suggest that Loops is, by any stretch, perfect. One primary concern regards the freshness of the music on which the articles focus: there is little here from the twenty-first century, let alone from 2009. James Yorkston, who provides a tour diary, is of course a current recording artist, but his oeuvre is firmly located in the folk idiom, and is far from ground-breaking. Even Richard Milward, an author whose youth and verbal dexterity can be seen as an irritant to those over thirty, reflects on Spacemen 3, a band who were defunct before he turned eight. Perhaps this is of a piece with the long-form nature of the writing, in that the hottest new sounds are not necessarily those worthy of the most in depth thought. The editors, however, would do well to avoid Loops falling too comfortably into Mojo, heritage territory.

The inclusion of the other recent arrivals, Wild Beasts, touches on the other issue: that of editorial partiality. Putting aside their offering - quotes from the Vorticist manifesto, refigured as poetry, and easily the worst section of the journal - Wild Beasts are signed to, you guessed it, Domino, as is James Yorkston. Matthew Ingram, who interviews DJ team Optimo, is a Domino employee. One has to hope that Laurence Bell is not looking on Loops as a handy way to promote his charges, and that future contributors will be drawn from further afield than the Domino stable.

Of course, these are early days, and Faber are to be applauded for entering into a endeavour of this nature, which leans against the prevailing publishing wind. Along with Hamish Hamilton (whose admirable Five Dials has been ominously silent of late), it is commendable to see mainstream publishers offering a platform for long essays of this type.

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