Given their lackluster past few issues, I once feared for this scrappy little music zine's future. Considering all the (free) content available on the web, who'd want to pay $5.00 for a beautifully designed but painfully inconsistent and occasionally amateurish labor of love? Thankfully, Copper Press rebounds with their landmark twentieth issue, which features a whopping sixteen articles (six more than last time). Of course, quantity and quality don't always correlate, but at least this issue doesn't feel skimpy...or, for that matter, self-indulgent.
Copper Press #20
Ever Notice How the Sappy Dialogue Dries Up Once a Guy Starts Soilin' His Union Suit?
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Unlike most of their contemporaries, CP entirely eschews reviews in favor of profiles and interviews. Perversely, # 20 leads off not with a major essay on a high profile act, but with a quirky little article about Jerk With a Bomb, who morph into a new outfit called Black Mountain before author Tobias Carroll even finishes the piece. Band members Steve McBean and Josh Wells answer Carroll's questions with just a hint of playful sarcasm (McBean on the impetus for putting the band together; "Probably no different than why Ratt got together in the first place, minus the cocaine and ladies") and it sets a distinct, vaguely irreverent tone for the issue.
Next, in the "Where Are They Now" file, Eric J. Iannelli contributes a provocative profile of Cracker. Documenting their career after falling off a major label's roster (and nearly everyone's radar), it provides some insight as to how and why this happens to so many veteran alt-rockers, and also why it's not necessarily a death knell for them. After reading so much coverage of Camper Van Beethoven's recent reunion, I enjoyed coming across something about David Lowery's other band.
Midway through, #20 hits a nice stride. Steve Brydges offers an extensive profile on Mitch Cheney, an artist and guitarist who played with Sweep the Leg Johnny on their last record. Energetic and affable, Cheney is an interviewer's dream, and Brydges has no difficulty establishing an immediate rapport with him, whether chatting about artistic influences, growing up in Hawaii, or, am, back hair. Next, Christian Carey reports on The Butchershop Quartet's arduous task of transposing Stravinsky's ballet Rite of Spring for guitar, bass and drums. Before interviewing the band, he gives us a well-researched history of Stravinsky's composition, from its controversial first performance in 1913 through Disney's appropriation of it for Fantasia. It conveys a focus and intelligence rarely witnessed in your average zine.
Occasionally, CP throws in an article or two that, while fitting in with their overall vibe, doesn't necessarily have anything to do with music -- always a risk, but sometimes it works. This issue's weird, whimsical cover art was drawn by Eddie Martinez, who receives a generous twelve page spread inside. Interspersed with minimal interview snippets that match Martinez's surreal, childlike aesthetic, it's cute and admittedly a little cloying. Still, it makes for a pleasant diversion from the rest of CP's content-heavy information overload. An article on Matthew Derby, one of the zine's own contributors, has more meat to it. What could've been a fatuous puff piece is actually pretty insightful: Derby talks about his first novel (Super Flat Times), his place as a young writer within various literary communities, and some intriguing plans for a book about a video arcade game he played as a seven-year-old at his local Ames.
Other decent articles include Burt Blasengame's frank, funny, neighborhood-oriented take on Pilot to Gunner (which flows as well as good Tom Wolfe), Allen Harrison's pieces on Old Time Relijun and Sea Ray, and Carey's profile of experimental post-rock combo Tiny Hairs. As with past issues, this one loses some momentum in its final quarter, but overall, the quality of the writing has remarkably improved. I only direct gripes at Brian Peterson: his two articles (on Isis and Playing Enemy) mean well, but they're embarrassingly overwritten and pretentious. Inexplicably, they appear next to each other toward the issue's front end.
Don't forget the by-now-prerequisite double CD compilation that accompanies each issue. As usual, only one of the artists profiled in the zine appears on disc (congratulations, Pilot to Gunner). The content is mostly ad-driven: #20's back cover features ads for The Cardigans and Sloan, and guess who provides the first two tracks on disc one? Fortunately, this is far more diverse and listenable than the male-centric noise dreck that dominated the unimaginative comp that arrived with #19. Still, the quality is variable enough that I'd prefer one succinct, consistent disc to two overstuffed ones.
In fact, that's a vital challenge CP faces as it tumbles into its twenties. Any discerning reader favors quality over quantity, but who can resist the urge to expand, and who likes receiving a shorter, malnourished issue, anyway? Hopefully, #20's adequate breadth and scope will serve as a template these folks can refine and perfect -- not an easy task for any publication, but a reasonable, attainable one.
-- Chris Kriofske