Brainchild of Eric Pulido (Midlake), BNQT are an indie supergroup made up of Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) and Fran Healy (Travis).
According to Pulido they are a “poor man’s Travelling Wilburys“. However, ignoring both the debate as to whether or not they are a supergroup, and the faux artiness of their dismemvowelled name (which is pronounced ‘Banquet’), this project’s long gestation period, which spans way back to 2013 , has created an album which exhibits both variety and complexity.
‘Volume 1’ opens with ‘Restart’; a psych stomper with nods to Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’. BNQT suggests minimalism, Banquet excess, and in this track the band manage to sound both; in the sparse drums and casual shake of a tambourine alongside the overflowing orchestral synths. This is a theme they revisit throughout the album but change the instrumentation to avoid repetition. On ‘Unlikely Force’ Bridwell’s vocals bring us down from space to street view, but the suburban scene is soaked in seventies sounding horns which sit on the right side of parody.
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Some tracks also remind us of why these bands were great. ‘100 Million Miles’ is pure Grandaddy, with its switching between strings and straightforward rock all held together by Lytle’s harrowing vocals. Like the other tracks, it is one long crescendo building up to a Roxy Music inspired interplay between violins, synths and guitars. ‘Hey Banana’ revisits the best of Franz Ferdinand or FFS with Kapranos in all his pseudo-artiness doing his best Donovan pastiche.
The album moves through the Baroque (‘100 Million Miles’), to Baroque Pop (‘Hey Banana’) to Bar-rock with the Rolling Stones inspired ‘L.A On My Mind’. This has it all; a southern fried riff, whoops, glissandos, handclaps, ‘hey, hey, heys’, along with ‘Exile on Main Street’ style horns and gospel vocals. It is the album’s happiest track and this southern comfort is like a shot of Southern Comfort when played after the previous and best song ‘Failing at Feeling’. The build of this track from a simple count in, to piano and vocals, to drum roll, orchestra and backing singers gives the impression that you are sliding up switches in the studio.
Some songs are weaker. ‘Tara’ sounds like the B Side for ‘L.A On My Mind’, while lyrically ‘Real Love’ and ‘Mind of a Man’ can completely pass you by. However, on these occasions the instrumentation keeps your interest with a ‘Penny Lane’ style horn, bongos or another screeching guitar solo. Finally, ‘Volume 1’ ends well with a full-blown ‘Cowboys vs. Aliens’ outro on ‘Fighting the World’.
You can make a case that this is a good album because its sounds of the seventies and orchestral overtures link it to the contemporary acclaim of Father John Misty. But while he makes social statements, this album is a celebration of music and musicianship. Many so-called supergroups crash-land due to competing egos, but on BNQT’s debut we have five talented individuals, bringing the best out of each other, to make music they enjoy because they enjoy it. Plus, with a name like ‘Volume 1’ we can be hopeful that this album is the first of many to come.
‘Volume 1’ is out now via Bella Union.