Magazine review: Paste

March 2007, 88 pages, $5.95 USD

Paste is exactly as its name implies: a magazine full of bits and pieces, glued together here, stitched there, some ribbons and sequins slapped on top. It is an eclectic hodgepodge of pop culture delights, featuring articles on music, books, movies, and even food. Its interviews are random, its music selection all over the place — but hey, who doesn’t like a little variation once in awhile?

The main section, so to speak (there are subsections and sub-subsections) is prominently titled “The Scrapbook,” a collection of recent music news, film, and culture articles. It is a huge section; in the most recent issue it ranged from page 18 to 42. And out of 88 pages? That’s some scrapbook.

Music articles take the most space. Pages are broken down into color-coded areas (this month’s issue: hot pink and white) that each have a different title: “The Bottom Line,” “Ears We Trust,” “Filmmakers to Watch,” and others. My personal favorite is “4 to Watch,” a two-page spread of four up-and-coming music artists from around the world that Paste thinks are really neat. It provides all the essential info: their hometown, members, fun facts, why they’re worth watching, and what other bands they’re similar to. I’ve found that this last part is not always entirely accurate — sorry, Issue #29, but the Silver Lakes in no way remind me of Belle & Sebastian.

The “… And Culture” section of “The Scrapbook” is unfortunately the shortest, but one of the most interesting. Since music and movies have already been covered, the term “culture” applies to what is left: food, travel, art. Unlike the colorful labyrinth of the “Music” and “Film Clip” sections, “… And Culture” focuses on a couple of simple articles, plus a sidebar or two. The layout is clean and easy on the eyes.

The writing throughout Paste is really what makes all of these elements flow together nicely. There tends to be less analyzation and more quotation, which can get a little bit confusing, but lets the subject speak for itself. More often than not, though, it is the perspective of the writer that is most important, and it is these articles that are the most interesting.

“Cancún … nothing but a hairy ball-sack of a tourist trap,” writes Hollis Gillespie in “The Ugly American,” an article in “The Scrapbook.” “It’s stuffed with so many T-shirt shops and tequila-shooting frat boys that you can barely see the giant stucco restaurant where waiters wear gun belts with booze bottles tucked in holsters, let alone the refuse-infested seascape beyond that.”

The eclectic nature of the content alone sets Paste apart from other music and pop magazines, such as Spin and the online ones like Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound. Because these three are more music-centered, they offer longer and more comprehensive music reviews, interviews, and photographs. Paste’s articles are all over the place, and seem to be geared toward an older, more intellectual crowd. From its toned-down cover art and laid-back style of writing, Paste is deliberately choosing not to showcase itself as a “pop” magazine, in the sense that Rolling Stone and Spin seem to. It is a magazine in search of “Signs of Life in Music, Film, and Culture,” as its cover tells us, not necessarily the bearer of the latest Britney Spears breakdown.

And did I mention the free CD? Well, perhaps not entirely free, once you take into consideration the magazine’s slightly annoying price of $5.95, but certainly less than your average record-store album. Its contents are described in full in the “Paste Sampler” section, and what you see might surprise you. Paste’s mixing and matching skills are at its strongest here, where indie, country, and hip-hop collide.

But more than anything, it is, like the magazine itself, a way for us to break down barriers between genres of music, types of movies, just bits and pieces of our stereotypes about the world in general. The Stooges, James Brown, Southern food, Levi jeans? Maybe we should ask ourselves what these items do not have in common, as Paste is clearly insinuating that they already go together in some way or another.

It is this melting pot attitude that sets Paste apart from the music-only crowd. Online magazines like Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound tend to focus more on reviews in general, rather than on random subjects like video games and Cancún.

What Paste has truly perfected, despite its haphazard format, is a magazine on the go. The short, compact sections work well with time-crunching commuters or busy students, although the CD is a little inconvenient for MP3 users. It only comes out eight times a year, so while some of the “new releases” information can be outdated, it gives ample time to read Paste little by little. Like any good scrapbook, Paste is a delight to flip through.