The New York Review of Magazines


By Susie Poppick

Circulation: 30,000
Date of Birth: 2009
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $4.95

The very existence of year-old Blurt magazine is bold, and not just because of the recession.

Blurt dares, in the age of the Internet, to represent the ineffable auditory experience of music through words and photos, without any handy play buttons offering MP3 samples or video clips. The quarterly flips the traditional print-to-web formula — it is the new offspring of an existing website, — and eschews top 40 pop hits in favor of the “indie”-prefixed genres. If those weren’t warning signs enough, founder Scott Crawford’s last print music magazine, Harp, folded in 2008.

These red flags suggest a novel challenge, to which Blurt’s response is surprisingly traditional. The magazine’s spirit (and most of its word count) is devoted to good old-fashioned music journalism, with intimate articles on rising artists and vivid curatorial music reviews that would seem right at home on the pages of Rolling Stone, were the artists less obscure. The writing is perceptive and often beautiful; a reviewer in the winter 2009 issue remarks that the electronic group Fuck Buttons’ newest album, Tarot Sport, “was gulped down by the press with a wince and a lemon slice; it had harsh waves of treble, oily swamp-hiccups of bass. … It is quite nearly the inverse of the former album, with the same shape, the same cracked teeth percussion … and the same cawing jungles of multilayered synth, but everything now bright as a body turned inside out, bleeding colour.” With descriptions like that, who needs streaming audio?

Features and interviews round out the content, providing indie music junkies — those who subsist on albums by Heartless Bastards, Of Montreal, Grizzly Bear, Deerhoof, My Morning Jacket, Lykki Li, Conor Oberst and TV on the Radio — with a feast of information that blurs the lines between the obscure, fascinating and trivial (e.g., did you know a groupie once stole Kings of Leon vocalist-guitarist Caleb Followill’s $1,200 jacket?).

But Blurt, for all its wordplay and insight, misses the mark when it comes to presentation. Many photos, including a centerfold spread of the Avett Brothers in the winter 2009 issue, are dimly lit and low-resolution. Some are even recycled from issue to issue. And writers of ransom letters may as well put down their scissors; Blurt’s text is often so tiny it has me reaching for the bifocals I don’t own and shouldn’t need.

In an interview with The Washington Post last year, founder Crawford explained that in order to limit overhead costs, the magazine is produced virtually, by staffers who e-mail each other from around the country and work out of their apartments. While such frugality is to be admired, it is no excuse for sloppy editing and poor photography, particularly at a time when print magazines must offer some added value beyond what online publications can provide. If Blurt is to graduate beyond the status of recycled web companion, it needs to push its production values up a notch.

To be fair, some sections of the magazine already have that needed gleam of professionalism. Chris Eichenseer’s photos from Lollapalooza 2009 are sassy and polished, skillfully framing musicians against the grass, trees and ambient sunlight. A clever fall fashion spread shot by Edward Smith shows various indie artists lounging in colorful vintage attire. Blurt would benefit greatly if such attention to aesthetics were more consistent throughout its pages.

Another area that is strong but could use more consistency is Blurt’s front section, which features short articles and columns. Inventive imaginings such as “Cover Songs We’d Like to See” (e.g., Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covering M.I.A.’s “Bamboo Banga”) and “What a Pair” (e.g., Quentin Tarantino directing a Katy Perry music video) are entertaining and show that Blurt writers know the industry well enough to lampoon it successfully. Articles like “Near-Life Experience,” in which a writer describes playing music for tips and working up to paid gigs in the online virtual world Second Life, offer an unusual perspective on the tactics aspiring rock stars must sometimes employ to get their names out. These pieces are all well executed but do not seem to fit into predictable slots at the magazine’s front. As Blurt matures, it would benefit from some regularity in this area, so that readers can grow attached to specific columns.

With a bit more consistency and attention to presentation, Blurt would be well positioned to stay in the print game. At its core, it is a solid, well-written magazine, with interviewers who ask the right questions and writers who find the right words to translate the verve of music into prose.

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