Prepare your turntable for some heavy rotation bangers vinyl fans, ’cause there’s a killer new record club in town, and you’re gonna want to get your mitts on the band-themed boxes they’re delivering every month. It’s called Bandbox, and it’s the customizable record club you’ve been waiting for.
Groove Is In The Bandbox
What’s the big deal, you ask?
To put it simply, the words FULLY CUSTOMIZABLE. That’s right, Team Bandbox is now offering a fully customizable listening experience each and every month, giving you the chance to tailor you box with artists and albums that fit your own personal tastes. And just in case this is the first Bandbox Unboxed piece you’ve clicked on, you should know that Bandbox’s current slate of artists includes the likes of Neil Young, Weezer, Ride, Joy Division/New Order, Johnny Cash, and Arctic Monkeys.
If you are among the legions of fans out there excitedly reading my vinyl unboxing every month, you know a big time format change has recently come to Bandbox land, and that customizability is not the key to their coveted box. And now that Team Bandbox is offering a fully customizable format (via a single artist/album of your choosing) and pairing each album with a “Band Dox” zine full of insight, interviews, and behind the scenes pics of your personally selected artist. As such, you’ll now be able to dig their vinyl+zine treasures for a super reasonable $29 a month. Oh, and rumor has it Bandbox will soon be bringing Exclusive color pressings of convet-worthy albums into the mix. So you might want to get on board sooner rather than later.
And to those who still fancy the deep dive double album approach fear not, ’cause you can add an additional album to your box for a measly $17. As with the last delivery, I’m continuing to take a slightly different approach to my Bandbox sub by doubling up with releases/zines from two different artists … which makes for a wholly unique Bandbox experience. Here’s a look at what’s inside the latest box.
I’m sincerely hoping Bandbox’s fully customizable experience will help ease the nerves of folks wary of letting a group of complete strangers “surprise” you with artist/album selections every month. Just for the record, you can still choose to be surprised every month if that’s what you prefer, but if you’re still suspect, you should know that Bandbox has already setup an exchange program which allows you to swap out records you don’t want for ones you do, so long as they’re available in the archives. Hell, they’ll even let you integrate your Discogs account to ensure they never even offer you something you already have in your collection.
If you’re really, really wary of surprises, Team Bandbox will even let you tap out of your subscription by pressing “pause” on your sub any time you like. It’s unlikely you’ll want to “pause” anything once you’ve signed up and experienced Bandbox for yourself. Just know that your Bandbox experience will only be as amazing as you make it. Understood?
Let The Great World Spin
Now that I’ve given you all the down and dirty details about what Bandbox is bringing every month, let’s take a moment to get into the latest delivery, ’cause it contains a couple of under-appreciated gems from a pair of bands you should be more than a little bit acquainted with.
As mentioned, I’m taking a slightly different approach to my Bandbox sub, essentially making a vinyl grab bag for myself every month. This month’s box saw me grab releases from Britpop icons Blur, and modern synth-pop ingenues CHVRCHES. Of that pairing, I’ll simply say that, even though the albums are separated by decades, the music within is not all that far apart. And I’ll be happy to tell you all about both below.
First up this month is Leisure, the debut album from one of the biggest bands to emerge from the U.K.’s Britpop scene, Blur.
Blur – Leisure (1991)
If you’re among the music fans who came of age in the ’90s, it’s likely Blur needs little introduction. They were, after all, one of the biggest bands of the decade. And in case you weren’t aware, they essentially birthed the venerated Britpop boon of the mid-90s to boot. But even if the name itself isn’t familiar, it’s likely you spent at least a month or so of 1997 with the chorus “WOO-HOO!” running rhythmically through your brain.
Yes, that was a Blur song. And yes, it was catchy as all hell. As it happens, it was also released on the album that saw the band eager to cut ties with their Britpop persona. That surprising desire came after they spent much of the decade moving millions of units and playing to sold out stadiums on the strength of prominent ’90s albums like Modern Life Is Rubbish (93) and Parklife (94); not to mention battling very publicly with fellow UK bad boys Oasis about which band was the most Britpoppy.
Whichever side of that battle you backed, it’s clear Blur were the less glossy Britpop poster boys for much of their ’90s reign. That has a lot to do with where they came from musically, of course: i.e. Oasis were very much of The Beatles school of Brit rock, whereas Blur were far more in tune with the twinkling pop psychedelia of The Stone Roses and the foggily fuzzed out shoegaze of Ride.
So it was that when Blur set out to record their debut album Leisure, the styles of those bands were more than a little bit prevalent. Some might even say a little too prevalent, with many critics and listeners proclaiming their 1991 debut Leisure little more than a rehash of the singular sounds conjured by those ver bands. Even Blur frontman (and future Gorillaz guru) Damon Albarn couldn’t entirely disagree with those sentiments, himself proclaiming years later that Blur didn’t actually become Blur until they went full Britpop with their 1993 followup Modern Life Is Rubbish.
Even as it remains one of the more maligned offerings in the Blur back-catalogue, Leisure is hardly the black eye many make it out to be these days. And while it’s hard to disagree with the obvious criticisms about Leisure, there’s still a lot to love about the album. First and foremost, even if many of the songs or stylistic knock offs of better bands, they’re extraordinarily well-constructed knock offs full of vibrantly youthful energy, and delivered with the same sort of “conquer the world” machismo that made Blur’s subsequent albums such a joy to behold.
Of course, there are several embarrassing sidesteps throughout (i.e. undercooked lyrics, lazy melodies, and songs oddly meandering towards nothing in particular) that prove youthful machismo does not a great album make. As it is, Leisure made Blur sound very much like a band of the moment, even as they charged ahead to “band of the future” status. Even still, it remains an intriguing document of a pretty good rock band figuring out how to become the band they wanted to be.
Next up, the latest release from Scottish indie synth-poppers CHVRCHES.
CHVRCHES – Love is Dead (2018)
I’ll go ahead and admit that I didn’t really know much about CHVRCHES before this month’s Bandbox turned up at my door. But upon opening the box, I was compelled to do a little bit of research about the Scottish synth-poppers. What I found was that CHVRCHES are a indie pop band of some renown who, to date, had somehow remained firmly off my radar. What can I say except that, no matter how much music you listen to, there’s always gonna be some band that you miss. Luckily, Bandbox was here to fill the CHVRCHES sized hole in my sonic palette … not to mention my record collection.
As it happens, Love is Dead (the band’s third album) was not my first experience with CHVRCHES. I actually got pretty excited about them after what I’d been reading, so I quickly hit up Spotify and listened to their 2013 debut The Bones of What You Believe before I gave Love is Dead its first spin. I’m now thinking that was a bit of a tactical gaffe, because I really dug what I heard The Bones of What You Believe, an album absolutely consumed by towering synths, infectious hooks, and sly pop subversions.
To be honest, as soon as I’d the first few tracks from The Bones of What You Believe, I was sort of kicking myself for not selecting that particular album for my CHVRCHES Bandbox. But hey, choices have to be made, and we must learn to live with the consequences of such decisions.
And just to be clear, Love is Dead is hardly a let down. Quite the opposite is true, in fact, with the album seeing the band lean fully into a more purely pop friendly sound to often stunning effect. In doing so they do, of course, lose a bit of the sonic and lyrical edginess that make The Bones of What You Believe such a hard-hitting piece of indie pop pleasure. Still, Love is Dead is nothing if not a lavishly-produced testament to the power of pop music. One that finds CHVRCHES continuing to champion the cause of change via grandiose pop anthems.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the 13 tracks that form Love is Dead, it’s clear the band’s collaborations with more pop-first producers (they worked with former Eurythmics stalwart David Stewart and mega-producer Greg Kurstin on the album) cost them a touch of authenticity, if not important pieces of their indie identity. I’m not talking about the sort of bold re-invention of a sound (a la Blur’s second album), of course. Love is Dead never doesn’t sound like CHVRCHES more than it alters the context of their sonic approach, eschewing the not-quite lo-fi spirit of their more homegrown pop anthems in favor of a more bubblegum-friendly sound. In all honesty, it’s a bold move that frequently pays off throughout Love is Dead, even as it invariably undercuts what’s made CHVRCHES such a unique voice in the pop world to date.
But hey, what the hell do I know? I literally just found out about this band, and my guess is that if you dug what CHVRCHES were bringing prior to Love is Dead, you’re probably gonna dig what they bring to the new album as well. And I sincerely hope that’s true, because Love is Dead really is quite a remarkable pop document.
A Cardboard Box For Sharing Music
Bandbox is chiefly concerned with living up to that, “cardboard box for sharing music” definition. As the focus of each month’s box is hardcore customizability, they’ve taken the opportunity to beef up their killer “Band Dox” zines with more pictures, interviews, and insightful artist breakdowns than ever before. Which means readers are set to dive deeper into your chosen artist’s history than ever before.
Now, who’s ready to do some diving into the world of the giddily self-indulgent world of Blur? We hope your hand is raised high, ’cause there’s a lot to love inside the Blur-centric BandDox #13. Have a look for yourself.
I sincerely hope you saved some energy for BandDox #14, ’cause there’s some jaw-droppingly gorgeous CHVRCHES photography contained within its pages. Just try not to lose your shit over that stunning centerfold pic.
Zines are all well and good, but we know you’ve come to this vinyl unboxing bonanza to have a look at the albums themselves. So without further delay, let’s go ahead and have a gander.
As for Blur’s debut album, it’s a bit of a no-nonsense affair. The pressing included in this month’s Bandbox is a noticeably straightforward as well.
It does come with a lovely printed inner sleeve, however, including a full lyrics breakdown on the flip side.
And as for the contents of that sleeve, it’s 180g of pure Britpop power pressed on glossy black wax.
Love is Dead
Now, who’s ready to gaze upon a shiny new pressing of CHVRCHES’ Love is Dead. You should be, because even if I didn’t really flip for the album, I gotta admit that the packaging for Love is Dead truly to die for.
Be sure to take a moment and appreciate this stunner of a photo inside the gatefold.
Once you’re digging into that sleeve, be sure not to overlook the digital download code, ’cause Love is Dead is an album essentially built for headphones.
There’s no printed inners for Love is Dead exactly, but you will find this helpful insert if you’re dying to learn the lyrics by heart, or just want to know who did what on the album.
As for the wax, well, it’s a neon blue fever dream that’s as lovely as any disc I’ve ever seen. And its labels are designed to match up with the artwork donning its sleeve.
Battle of the Bandbox
Look, there’s potential for two new records in every single Bandbox. While it’s truly marvelous that the B-box team is giving you the chance to double down on the wax every month, subscribers are certain to find themselves in the unique position of choosing a favorite between the pair. This can, understandably be a trying experience for even the savviest of music lovers because there really aren’t a lot of bad records in the Bandbox vaults these days.
That being said, this month’s choice was a little easier for me than most, because I didn’t really connect with CHVRCHES Love is Dead on a visceral level. As noted earlier, that’s not really a knock against the album more than it is a reflection of my personal tastes. And this month my personal tastes were far more impressed with Blur’s Leisure, a wildly imperfect affair that still stands as an intriguing look at a soon-to-be-huge band on the verge of figuring out who the hell they actually are. So let’s all raise a glass to this month’s Battle of the Bandbox champ, Blur’s debut album Leisure!
It’s the Bandbox You Want, And The Bandbox You Need
Look, the so-called “vinyl boom” is not gonna fade away anytime soon. If you’re one of the many who have found themselves giddily wrapped up in the madness, you already aware there are a million and one different options for getting your hands on some sweet, sweet wax. While I’d always encourage you to shop first at your local record store, I also understand that subscription vinyl clubs are an excellent way to help fill in/round out your growing collection.
If you’re looking to round out that collection a little sooner than later, a vinyl club that’s down to send you one, or even two worthy records every month is a pretty good way to do it. With Bandbox delivering high-quality pressings of albums by popular artists, they’re giving you a chance to both grow your collection with lust-worthy popular discs and discover deep dive treats you might’ve previously overlooked. That savvy mix of quality and variety should make it easy for diehard vinyl fans and newbs alike to board the Bandbox bandwagon. Make sure you get on board today!