Prepare your turntable to receive some heavy rotation bangers vinyl fans, ’cause there’s a new, deep dive record box in town, and you’re gonna want to get your mitts on the band-themed short stack of wax its delivering every month. It’s called Bandbox, and it’s unlike any other vinyl subscription service out there.
Groove Is In The Box … The Bandbox
What’s the big deal, you ask? To begin with, the vinyl-loving crew behind Bandbox are delivering not just one album to your doorstep every month, but two! And not to overstate the obvious, but the only thing better than getting one new record in the mail every month, is getting twice that number. With Bandbox focusing their packages on a single artist/group every month, you can be certain they’ll be digging deep into the archives to send some truly unsung sonic treasures your way.
To keep things interesting, Bandbox is throwing a hitch into their album selection process. That means the first of the mystery discs subscribers receive will be a staple album from said artist’s slate of releases. The second mystery disc is where the deep dive aspect kicks in, with Bandbox pledging to pick an overlooked gem from the artist’s back catalogue. And that gem may or may not be the same album for every subscriber.
If that bold choice isn’t quite enticing enough, you should know that Bandbox is also stuffing every box with a lavishly animated, track-by-track listening companion for the featured album – not to mention a stylish fanzine tracking the artist’s career and releases. And all that can be yours for the super reasonable price of just $49 a month.
For those who might be wondering whether or not Bandbox is actually worth the investment, you’re gonna wanna keep reading, ’cause the Bandbox hit a home run for September with a double shot of shoegaze goodness from genre mavens Ride.
Before we get too far into this month’s box, those of you wary of letting a group of complete strangers “surprise” you with artist/album selections every month should know that Team 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 Bandbox archives. Hell, they’ll even let you integrate your Discogs account to ensure you never receive something you already have, thus limiting the need to make those swaps.
If you’re really, really wary of surprises, you can even “pause” your subscription at any time. It’s unlikely you’ll want to “pause” anything once you’ve signed up and experienced Bandbox for yourself. And for that relatively modest sum, you try to just chill out, have a little adventure, and get down with whatever vibes Bandbox is bringing.
Let The Great World Spin
With any luck, you read the word shoegaze and knew exactly what I was talking about. Just in case you were actually left gazing at your own shoes in utter bafflement when that word made its appearance, here’s a sort of “Cliff’s Notes” version of what shoegaze is. Not to spoil anything, but guitars are involved.
That’s right, shoegaze was a sub-genre of the British indie rock scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The term itself was coined in reference to the way early practitioners of the style (initially labeled dream pop) performed live sets, standing almost totally still with their heads down, and their eyes firmly planted on their shoes. Sonically speaking, shoegaze’s signature sound involved bands utilizing the “wall of sound” approach pioneered by the likes of Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain to building layers upon layers of washy, distorted guitars and lush electronics, then positing them behind dreamy vocal tracks. The result was an ethereal, near otherworldly, mix of noise rock and off-kilter melody that, when done well, was capable of holding listeners in a near trancelike state.
Most admirer’s of the subgenera would tell you that My Bloody Valentine were the shoegaze band of the era. They’d be right. But with their own now legendary early contributions to the genre (i.e. their landmark debut Nowhere and its more pop-forward followup Going Blank Again), Ride were not far behind.
So which of Ride’s shoegazey classics are on tap for September? The featured album is the band’s groundbreaking sophomore release Going Blank Again.
Going Blank Again (1992)
I feel like I spend a fair amount of time in these unboxings confessing to you lot about the shortcomings in my musical education, so here comes another: before Going Blank Again showed up in the mail this month, I’d never once listened to the album. (Takes deep breathe). Ok, now that my latest confession is out of the way, I’ll try to explain myself, ’cause in spite of that fact, I’ve spent more than a little time in my life swaying and gazing to the washed out sounds of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Swervedriver. And yes, even Ride’s pitch-perfect debut Nowhere.
Truth be told, when it came to the shoegaze set, I was just always more a fan of the edgy exlporations of deconstructed noise put forth by My Bloody Valentine, and the austere, unabashed dreaminess of Slowdive. As such, I tended to think that – even on the heavy hitting Nowhere – Ride erred a little too often toward pop. Everything I’d read or heard about Going Blank Again told me they’d gone a little further in that direction for their second album, and I simply never gave it a go.
So here’s the thing, everything I’d heard about Going Blank Again was true … only not entirely. Yes, Going Blank Again is inarguably a more pop-forward album than anything Ride had released before, but that’s not really a bad thing. In fact, the band’s uncanny ability to blend My Bloody Valentine styled “wall of sound” wash with the jangly psych-pop of contemporaries like The Stone Roses helps make Going Blank Again that rarest of rock albums that plays as effectively in the realm bold, sonic experimentation as it does crunchy, pop-tinged hooks. Some might even say that complex mix of styles makes Going Blank Again the natural bridge between the shoegaze era and the looming Britpop explosion.
Either way, it unquestionably makes Ride’s sophomore LP an album still worthy of admiration and exploration … even as it approaches its 30th anniversary. Just FYI – Going Blank Again is also a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
As for September’s deep dive pick, Team Bandbox pulled quite the surprise with Ride’s latest release, 2019’s This Is Not A Safe Place.
And this latest collection arrives via a double LP pressed on black wax. It comes with a full album download as well, which – despite what some folks would have you believe – is pretty sweet.
This Is Not A Safe Place (2019)
For those who weren’t keeping a close eye on the shoegaze scene back in the early ’90s, you should know that (like punk before it) the style has remained wildly influential in the rock world even though it didn’t really last very long. In fact, by the time Going Blank Again was released, enthusiasm for the sound was rapidly waning, a fact that – depending on how you look at it – could have either resulted in the larger pop influence of Ride’s second album, or that said pop influence (and the financial success that accompanied it) played a significant role in laying the shoegaze scene to rest on the rippling banks of Sennen Cove.
However you view the shift in Ride’s overall sound, it’s worth noting that they never really found their legs in a Britpop scene dominated by lively acts like Blur, The Verve, and Oasis. While those band were just beginning their charge to the top of the pop charts, Ride toiled along, releasing two middling albums in the wake of Going Blank Again before calling it quits in 1996. Like their former Creation Records label mates My Bloody Valentine, more than 20 years would pass before we got any new music from Ride.
Those new tunes arrived in 2017 with the release of Weather Diaries, a visceral (if slightly unfocused) collection of tunes that proved Ride was still more than capable of bringing the noise, though they were undeniably doing so with a sizable chip on their shoulders. Luckily, the band shed that chip before heading into the studio to record their Weather Diaries followup.
Of This Is Not A Safe Place I’ll say that I’m still processing my thoughts and feelings about the album. But you should know that Ride were clearly ready to leave Weather Diaries behind them when the set out to record its followup. Sans the attitude and expectations that came with producing their first album in two decades, Ride has delivered as potent a collection of songs as ever in This Is Not A Safe Place, though there’s definitely a few misses in the mix. Even if their new album doesn’t quite reach the level of their former glories (they may never release another song as sonically immersive as Nowhere‘s title track), there’s enough wash and reverb and thick, sludgy bass in play throughout TINASP to make one want to stand and sway and gaze at your shoes for days. Welcome back, Ride.
A Cardboard Box For Sharing Music
Bandbox is chiefly concerned with living up to that, “cardboard box for sharing music” definition, not to mention their rep as the deep dive record club. With two full length albums inside, it absolutely lives up to both concepts. What’s so cool about Bandbox is that the founders fully understand that part of “sharing” music means sharing an ongoing discourse about the music. The two magazines included in every month’s box are all about sharing thoughts and insights not just into the songs that form the selected albums, but the artists who recorded them.
Now, before we start flipping through those zines, let’s take a quick moment to admire one of the personal touches that come with each Bandbox – i.e. the always welcome handwritten note from founder Alex Rice. We can only imagine the hand-cramping that must coincide with writing a note for every Bandboxer out there, and we continue to admire Mr. Rice’s tenacity in keeping things personal. And yes, Alex, I see what you did there.
We’d also like to take a moment to dig on the This Is Not A Safe Place promo poster Rice slipped into this month’s box.
Now, on to those zines! To the surprise of no-one, the Bandbox crew have put together another kick ass slate of content this month that should provide more than a little insight for both longtime fans of Ride and wide-eyed newbs just now coming to their music. First up, a wonderfully insightful, track by track breakdown of Ride’s second offering Going Blank Again, complete with album-themed artwork from Bandbox’s obscenely talented illustrator Cou Feis.
Gotta say, the “Fan Talks” zine continues to capture the feeling of having an in depth convo with a couple of buddies about an album you adore. It also serves as a marvelous primer for the in depth breakdown you’ll find about Ride in this month’s “Band Dox.” Which also happens to feature some killer behind the scenes photos of the band in their heyday.
Now, let’s peel that plastic off and have a butcher’s at those discs, shall we?
But before you dig into those sleeves and free the wax inside, we’d urge you to take a moment to admire the band photo inside the gatefold, ’cause it’s a legit beauty.
There’s also a full lyric sheet in there that’ll help you digest the words that accompany Going Blank Again‘s heady grooves.
As for the wax? It’s a double dose of traditional black, ’cause who needs fancy colored vinyl when the inner labels actually spell the band’s name?
As already noted, This Is Not A Safe Place is a double lp as well, which means this month’s Bandbox is stuffed with no less than four, thick slabs of wax. As for the cover art on Ride’s newest release, well, it’s absolutely stunning. And we love that shade of green set against the cold, grey sea.
You’ll want to note that the lettering is raised on that cover as well, which is kind of a slick detail for any album.
As with Going Blank Again, This Is Not A Safe Place features some lovely photography on the gatefold, this time covering the band in the studio, presumably laying down the densely layered jams that permeate the album itself.
There’s another full lyric insert in that sleeve as well.
And it’ll come in hand for those of you who actually use the included download. ‘Cause how else are you supposed to sing along while jamming out with your ear buds in.
As for the wax? Well, that label wasn’t lying. It’s black, and it’s beautiful. Just the way vinyl should be.
Battle Of The Bandbox
Here’s the thing, there’s two new records in every single Bandbox. While it’s truly marvelous that the B-box team is doubling down on the wax every month, subscribers are certain to find themselves in the unique position of choosing a favorite from the two. Though we dug the deep dive pick in last month’s Weezer box, there was just no competing with Weezer’s Blue Album perfection. All due respect to Ride’s crunchy new gem This Is Not A Safe Place, but it’s sort of a no brainer that their genre-shifting second album would take the trophy this month … if only because after almost three decades, listening to Going Blank Again will still feel like a revelatory experience for any Ride-head (mental note: find out if Ride-heads are a thing). Anyway, all hail September’s Battle of the Bandbox champ Going Blank Again!
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 two worthy records every month is a pretty good way to go. With Bandbox delivering high-quality pressings of albums by popular artists, they’re giving you a chance to both grow your collection with killer popular discs and discover something you might’ve overlooked (see comments on This Is Not A Safe Place). 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!