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 they’re delivering every month. It’s called Bandbox, and it’s unlike any other vinyl subscription service out there.
Groove Is In The Bandbox
What’s the big deal, you ask? To begin with, the wax warriors 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 (Neil Young, Weezer, Ride, St. Vincent, and Dire Straits have already been featured), 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. And did I mention that your membership will come with full access to the just-launched Bandstocks store – which happens to feature a bevy of kick ass records from artists across all genres at bargain basement prices? ‘Cause it does.
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 in your collection, thus limiting the need to make those swaps.
If you’re really, really wary of surprises, Team Bandbox will even let you tap out of the coming month’s artist and choose from their back catalogue of albums. If that’s still not good enough, you can even “pause” your subscription at any time you like. 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 should try to chill out, embrace the adventure, and get down with whatever vibes Bandbox is bringing.
Let The Great World Spin
As for what Bandbox is bringing in December, well, a shiny pair of Joy Division and New Order bangers should be very much in the wheelhouse of any music fan who counts themselves a devotee of the post-punk/new wave era. But just in case you’re not among the disciples of the Factory Records-Hacienda-Madchester scene, I’ll kick things off this month with the briefest history lesson.
Our story begins in June of 1976, and within confines of the once once bustling British metropolis of Manchester. That summer found a fledgling U.K. punk outfit calling themselves the Sex Pistols paying a gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. As legend has it, only 42 revelers attended the gig. Among them were members of iconic Brit-bands Buzzcocks (who organized and opened the show), The Smiths, and Simply Red. Also in the crowd were Tony Wilson, Martin Hannett, and the members of a young band called The Stiff Kittens (who were fast on their way to becoming Warsaw before transforming into post-punk icons Joy Division, and eventually New Order). In less than a year’s time, Wilson will found Factory Records, sign Joy Division, and recruit Martin Hannett to produce the band’s first album.
In doing so, Wilson and Co. will almost unwittingly birth the post-punk/new wave movement, deliver some of the most iconic music from the late-70s and 1980s, and make Manchester the would-be musical epicenter of the universe, spawning such acts as Happy Mondays, The Durutti Column, and The Stone Roses – and eventually The Chemical Brothers, The Verve, and Oasis. And all that while simultaneously birthing Rave culture inside the hallowed halls of their legendary nightclub The Hacienda. But they all started with the Factory Records gang having their grey little world turned upside by the Sex Pistols in the summer of ’76. The rest, as they say, is history.
Just FYI – if you want to know a bit more about the insane rise and fall of Factory Records, I can tell you that Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 “biopic” 24 Hour Party People is as flawless a music flick as you’ll find on the subject, and is a fitting jumping in point for all things “Madchester.” And yes, you’ll understand why I put biopic in parentheses about five minutes in to the film.
Again, I’m sincerely hoping that you’re familiar with New Order, if only because they were legit one of the biggest acts on the planet in the ’80s and early ’90s. The wild success of their 1989 release Technique played a big part in that success – and that easily qualifies it for “featured album” status in this month’s Bandbox.
If you’re hunting for a track list, or just wanna know who did what in terms of Technique‘s production, you’ll need to have a closer look at the bottom of that back sleeve.
Now, if you know anything at all about Joy Division’s brief tenure under the Factory Records shingle, you know it ended with the devastating suicide of the band’s enigmatic lead singer Ian Curtis. Of course, if you know that story, you likely know Joy Division’s surviving members – Bernard Sumner (guitar), Peter Hook (bass), and Stephen Morris (drums) – would soon rise from the ashes of Joy Division to form New Order.
As it is, Team Bandbox’s idea to feature one album from each band in the month’s Bandbox is sort of genius, especially since they selected the first Joy Division album with New Order’s final release under Factory. While Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (1979) is likely known to one and all, I’m betting fewer of you are familiar with New Order’s 1989 dance-rock ripper Technique.
Ok, so maybe I’m the only one who’d never really given Technique much play over the years. But when a band has masterful albums like Power, Corruption, and Lies, Movement, and Brotherhood to their credit, is it really fair to fault me for overlooking what’s clearly another legit masterwork among so many others?
The answer is yes. And I am 100% at fault for not giving over to the frenzied, dance-punk rapture of Technique a long, long time ago. If you’re like me, and have yet to dance the night away to Technique, I’ll simply tell you that this album finds New Order all but shedding their post-punk skin and fully embracing the synth & sequencer heavy acid-house sound that had already been poking through in their previous albums. It also finds them plagued by financial troubles, personal strife, and frequent infighting – not to mention indulging in all manner of drug and alcohol-fueled debauchery.
The good news is you can hear all that turmoil boiling up to the surface throughout Technique‘s 40-minute runtime. The result is a blistering, 9 song set that doesn’t always sound like the New Order that existed before – even if it always feels distinctively like a New Order album. One that’ll have you longing for endless summer days and long sweaty nights spent wasting away in the cavernous halls of a discotheque. And yeah, it might even leave you wallowing in the drab excesses of your own life as it forces you to shake your ass until the sun comes up.
Just for the record, that Technique is Bandbox’s featured selection for December speaks volumes about what New Order accomplished in the wake of Joy Division’s tragic demise. That’s particularly true when you account for this month’s deep dive selection, ’cause whether you want to admit it or not, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is unquestionably one of the most important rock albums ever recorded.
There’s no track list to speak of on that back sleeve, but there is that all important label denoting Joy Division’s landmark debut as a good ole Factory Records product. Point of fact, Unknown Pleasures was actually one of the very first Factory releases.
And as noted on that hype sticker, this slick re-issue of Unknown Pleasures comes on 180g vinyl, replicates the original album artwork, and is cut from an excellent recent remaster. Which is all pretty sweet.
Unknown Pleasures (1979)
If it feels like I rambled a bit about Technique, it’s purely because I was quite taken with the album on my first real listen. So I’ll try to keep things a little simpler in regards to Unknown Pleasures … mostly because there’s really nothing much I can say about the album that hasn’t already been said by people cooler, more clever, and far more in the know than myself.
But for the five or six of you who maybe haven’t ever experienced Joy Division’s unflinchingly austere masterpiece, I can tell you that Unknown Pleasures is a brutalist beauty of a rock record possessed of radically crunchy guitar riffs, maniacally hypnotic drum beats, and absolutely unreal bass lines. And it’s all held together by the mercilessly monotone vocals and blithely listless lyrical stylings of Ian Curtis, who, continues to possess one of the most patently identifiable if perpetually tortured voices in the history of music.
So too does Unknown Pleasures contain one of the more singular sets of music ever committed to tape, with one punk-tinged anthem relentlessly feeding into the next to create a greyed, crumbling sonic landscape as worthy of gothic literature as it is a top 40 pop record. Without wasting too many more words, I’ll simply say that Unknown Pleasures (along with Joy Division itself) was, is, and shall ever be a singular addition to the rock & roll canon. We hadn’t seen or heard their like before. Quite frankly, we’ve not seen or heard their like since – even if New Order have valiantly managed to carry the torch well into the decades beyond Ian Curtis’ death.
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 also means sharing discourse. 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.
Though they’ve only been around for a little over a year, the Bandbox crew have continued to put together outstanding content with their zines, and this month’s productions are packed with more wicked insight that’ll satisfy even the most die hard fans of Joy Division and New Order. First up, a wonderfully insightful, track by track exploration of Technique via the “Fan Talks” zine, which includes another swathe of brilliant, album-themed artwork (mostly depicting a night in the life of Mad-chester’s legendary Hacienda) from Bandbox’s in-house illustrator Cou Feis.
Just FYI – if you’re digging what Cou Feis is bringing in this month’s “Fan Talks,” feel free to track her down via socials and tell her so yourself.
“Fan Talks” is sort of designed to read as an in depth conversation with a buddy about an album you both adore, but it also acts as a primer for the deep dive coverage about the artist behind the album you’ll read in “Band Dox.” The Bandbox team is delivering a genuine treat in this month’s “Band Dox” by scoring an interview with Joy Division and New Order founding member/bassist, Mr. Peter Hook. Just FYI – you’ll also find another treasure trove of period photography in this month’s zine as well.
And I dare you not to geek out at the old Hacienda poster painting the back cover of this month’s “Band Dox,” because it’s positively glorious.
Now, what’s say we finally get a look at that glossy vinyl goodness inside of the sleeves, eh? First up is New Order’s Technique, who’s gloriously classical/neon-drenched cover art gracefully captures the summery blend of heavy themes and dancy beats within.
The band kicks that neon theme into overdrive on Technique‘s inner sleeve with.
And while there’s not much going on with the back side of that inner sleeve, there’s still a couple of vital stats about this New Order masterwork down at the bottom.
As for the wax, it’s indeed a glossy, black beauty fit with New Order’s signature no nonsense labeling.
Now, for fans of the post-punk era, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is the very definition of landmark album. As such, Peter Saville’s iconic cover art has been spotting posters and t-shirts a plenty over the past four decades, and therefore needs no further expository ballyhoo from the likes of me.
And it’s worth noting that the minimalist approach New Order took with most of their album covers, etc sort of began with Unknown Pleasures, which is evinced by the already mentioned sparse notations on the back cover.
Don’t worry if you’re hunting for something resembling album credits for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, ’cause the band’s got you covered on the inner sleeve … which also features some more killer artwork from Saville.
Flip that sleeve over for Unknown Pleasure‘s trackless and credits.
Take particular not of the name Martin Hannett as well, because – aside from Tony Wilson and the band’s themselves – there really isn’t a single person more responsible for the Factory Records sound.
And yes, there’s another 180g of glossy black beauty tucked away inside that sleeve.
Battle of the Bandbox
Look, 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 between the pair. I’m not gonna lie here, this New Order vs. Joy Division battle is easily the toughest showdown Bandbox has delivered thus far. My initial instinct was to pull the first Battle of the Bandbox stalemate, if only because both Technique and Unknown Pleasures are sort of iconic records in their own rights. But then a stalemate would feel like a bit of a cop-out. Soooo ….
Let’s all give a hearty round of applause to December’s Battle of the Bandbox champ, Technique by New Order, which – even if Unknown Pleasures will always (rightfully so) be regarded as the better album and the more vital document of the Factory Records era – is a truly kick ass gothic post-punk dance record who’s wicked insights and infectious grooves totally caught me off guard this month … and may soon unseat 1983’s Power, Corruption, and Lies as my fave New Order record. All hail New Order!!
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 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!