Supergroups tend to occupy a strange space in the music world. Oftentimes, they seem great in theory, but end up making songs that are obscure and less than remarkable. Knowing this, some readers may feel inclined to dismiss BNQT—pronounced “Banquet”—as nothing but another strangely named assortment of relatively notable musicians coming together to create forgettable songs. However, BNQT is not that. On Volume 1, Eric Pulido (Midlake), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Fran Healy (Travis), and Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) provide listeners with truly intriguing, lush alt-rock, showing that a Volume 2 is a very real possibility.
Admittedly, Volume 1 takes a few minutes to get going—but once it gets going, it soars. If we’re going to use the supergroup’s name as an excuse to make a food-related metaphor, its first two songs, “Restart” and “Unlikely Force,” are your average restaurant salad—good and hearty, with all the right ingredients, but not particularly exciting. While “Restart” has a pleasant Rooney-ish vibe, and the piano and horns on “Unlikely Force” create some beautiful moments, neither track is especially alluring overall. There’s a shift when the supergroup dares to get creative on “100 Million Miles,” though. The track is reminiscent of a cross between Supergrass and MGMT in the best way, and it’s captivating from start to finish. By combining everything from a cinematic string section to a spacey synthesizer to British music hall influences to an out-of-this-world guitar solo, it secures its spot as a song you won’t forget—possibly even one of the best alt-rock songs to come out of 2017 thus far.
Throughout the rest of the album, BNQT keeps up its winning streak. One of its highlights is “Mind Of A Man,” which has a psychedelic, sunny ‘60s vibe embellished by ethereal backing vocals and flutes that are barely perceptible at first but gorgeous once detected. The alliteration and assonance in the song’s chorus—“In the mind of a man there are many land mines”—have the potential to make any poet or English teacher smile. Another standout is “Real Love,” a Beatles-esque track with lyrics that gently offer a message of hope in today’s contentious political climate (“so when the right side’s bringing you down/and the left holding onto the crown/we’ll still be right here making a sound”). The horns on the song give it both a regal flair and a sense of true exuberance that makes it the emotional heart of the album.
Volume 1 ends strong, with plenty of driving guitars and moments that make you think that the band must have had a heck of a time working together. “L.A. On My Mind” is an enjoyable addition to the “love letter to California” genre, featuring a “hey, hey, hey” refrain, soulful female backing vocals, and even some happy whistles and shouts for good measure. Then, closing out the album, comes “Fighting The World,” a far more pensive number that starts subtly with haunting synths and guitars and ends with a spectacular roar that almost seems like a more glamorous, rock-and-roll version of the soundtrack to a Western flick. When it ends with a decrescendo, listeners will find themselves longing for the next course of BNQT’s sonic feast.
It should be noted that although Volume 1 is quite cohesive, there is one notable outlier in the middle of its tracklist—“Hey Banana,” a detour so strange it deserves its own paragraph in this review. If the title leaves you confused as to what the song is about, know that listening to it probably won’t bring you any clarity. While the instrumentation, which evokes the Baroque pop of the 1960s and gradually escalates in intensity, is glorious, the lyrics consist of lines like “Hey banana, how you doing/hey banana, hey,” which is more than a little distracting. Love it or hate it, at least the song shows that BNQT takes itself seriously, but not too seriously—an attitude that the supergroup will need to keep up if it wants to stick around (which, hopefully, it will).
Overall, Volume 1 is a highly successful album—one that often looks to the past for inspiration, but is largely innovative and unique. If you’re a fan of retro-style rock groups like The Last Shadow Puppets, let BNQT provide the background music for your May.