Flying High Under the Radar

When I saw Under the Radar on the Barnes & Noble newsstand, I couldn’t help but smirk at the paradoxical juxtaposition. A subversive music magazine displayed at a corporate chain store?  How…punk?

Already familiar with seven of its 10 cover subjects, I was ready to dismiss UtR.  But before I could contradict its title, I discovered I was too quick to judge.

The magazine relies on the unexpected, generously sprinkling quirky bits of both design and editorial content throughout the issue. While perhaps not completely living up to its tagline of being “The Solution to Music Pollution,” UtR at least tries, making trolling through the smog of music industry offerings an amusing ride.

UtR is almost deliberately difficult to read. Departments are squished together without much distinction or explanation. Type is often microscopic. Editorial content is sometimes lost among ad pages, especially in the front of the book. The masthead, letter from the editor, and staff song picks are all compressed to a single half-page.  It’s enough to make you claustrophobic.

Still, there’s much that clears the air.

One nice touch is the bylines. These are written in the same fashion as musical collaborations, with credits for writer and photographer attributed as “Words by” and “Photo(s) by.” Contributors bond with their subjects, and readers, with the message that each piece is crafted as carefully as a song or album.

Another unique choice is the inclusion of an appendix to the previous issue. While a different magazine might relegate overflow content solely to its website, UtR brings it directly to its readers. This decision was probably made easier by the desire to publish a photo of the protest sign: “EAT MORE BUSH george.”

There are many more little pieces to praise, like the vast variety of albums reviewed (including one with piano covers of the Footloose soundtrack). Or whoever decided to sell an ad to the record-label home of the Fuck Buttons.

But UtR’s greatest strength is its ability to glean unabashedly honest and unflinchingly candid responses from its subjects. 

Okkervil River’s singer/guitarist Will Sheff perhaps sums up the magazine itself when he talks about the trappings of the indie lifestyle:

“You sort of start to realize that indie rock, as things go, is not the most revolutionary, politically incendiary, world-remaking genre.  It’s pretty affirming of how things already are.”

Under the Radar and its subjects may not be revolutionary.  But they present the way things are with enough style and substance to make you believe that they can be a solution.

— Katie Nowak


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