I'm really not sure what to make of The FADER magazine. Is it a stylish cultural journal? An artsy-fartsy publication focusing on musicians so underground that they recoil if exposed to direct sunlight? Entertainment Weekly for hipsters who deem themselves too au courant to read Entertainment Weekly?

After perusing the mag's May/June issue, I still don't have much of a clue. To be fair, it should be noted affirmatively and for the record that I'm not cool, and that FADER clearly isn't aimed at me and my fellow toothpick-chomping simpletons. That said, I'm reasonably certain that the mag ain't as cutting-edge and knowing as it purports to be.

FADER can yap all it wants about reggaeton and alternative illustrators and other entities that exist way off the mainstream radar, but the publication's growth seems to have compromised its credibility somewhat. Yes, there are always bills to pay, but it must pain the editors to have an ad for Burger King's decidedly red-state "enormous omelet sandwich" plastered next to an item on banjo-playing lunatic Charlie Poole. Plus, a guy with a nice haircut makes an appearance in a two-page Saturn spread. Silly media people--too-hip-for-the-room/neo-Warholian NYCers don't believe in conventional transportation options. You'd do better to hawk platinum-plated unicycles. Once you get past the credibility questions--let's pretend that the John Mayer blurb never happened, shall we?--there's a lot to like about the May/June issue of FADER.

The cover feature on Miles Davis, accompanied by a glut of intimate photographs and tributes from sidemen and current artists alike, casts the cultural icon in a surprisingly contemporary light. Mad ups (that's street lingo for a compliment, right? Here's my wallet! Don't hurt me!) go to the mag's staff for selecting musicians as diverse as Mos Def and Vic Chesnutt to illuminate Davis' influence on genres ranging from hip-hop to folk to electronica.

Equally dramatic are the five photo essays that comprise the bulk of the May/June issue--and they look especially stunning on the mag's luxe pages, which are about as thick as a slice of pastrami. Whether casting their sights on Latino heavy-metal fans or open-mic performers/poseurs, FADER's photographers unveil unexpected and often jarring beauty in their subjects. The photo feature on the Playboys, a notorious coterie of LA gangbangers, offers up the mag's most compelling image: a baby lazes idly on a large mattress, surrounded by a Mickey Mouse doll, a bottle, a gun, and a lockbox filled with cash. "Portentous" doesn't even begin to describe it. The writing in FADER is decidedly more hit-and-miss, which goes with the territory; attempting to translate enthusiasm for a band (or any cultural offering, for that matter) into words ain't a simple task. Still, there are featurettes within the "Gen F" section that practically beg for some hybrid of a copyeditor and a bouncer to take charge.

Take the opening line of the story on J*Davey: "The majors want neo-soul, but quietly bubbling underneath is J*Davey, a duo that avoids the big-money clichés and instead leaves shards of discordant yet mind-fuckingly-melodic tone poems cutting bare feet open on LA's living rooms and park lawns and dancefloors (sic)." I don't know what the hell that means, and I don't want to find out. The mag does, however, redeem itself somewhat with a revisionist and mercifully unironic take on the Black Sabbath catalog.

So I guess I'm back where I started: not really having any idea what to make of FADER. Advertisers should be wary of the clash between their mainstream wares and the low-wattage artistes ("artiste" is definitely a FADER word) featured in the mag. But hey, there aren't too many publications treading in the waters of underground culture that can pull off what FADER does. I suppose that counts for something, no?

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