Given the indie rock pedigree of the musicians playing in BNQT, it's surprising that their first album is so steeped in the '70s. Over the course of the album, Volume 1 pays lip service to Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, the Beatles, the Byrds and Electric Light Orchestra.
The supergroup is backed by Denton band Midlake. Sharing lead vocal duties are Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Fran Healy of Travis and Midlake's Eric Pulido. They sing two songs each on the 10-track debut, which was recorded at Denton’s Redwood Studio, owned by members of Midlake. Pulido has said that he views the band as a “poor man’s Traveling Wilburys."
Musically, the album is cohesive, but it falters lyrically in a few places. That's to be expected when you have five singers bringing five different perspectives, and performing with a band (Midlake) that is new to them.
Nevertheless, Volume 1 is a masterfully crafted album that dodges the bravado typical of supergroups and feels more like a heartfelt collaboration between friends.
Here's our track-by-track breakdown of Vol.1.
The opening track and lead single fuses the mid-'70s glam stomp of T. Rex with the melodic lightness of ELO. Lyrically it tackles the experience of restarting one's life after the end of a long relationship. Given the departure of Midlake's frontman, Tim Smith, in 2012, this song is an appropriate way to kick off this new endeavor.
This is Ben Bridwell’s first vocal appearance on Volume 1. The tune recalls the layered vocal stylings of the Byrds. The guitars are subdued, with the exception of a brief but dazzling dual guitar solo that reminds us of the Allman Brothers. The song craft is meticulous, with subtle horn arrangements and dancing piano flourishes that contribute to the melodic palette without making the song too cluttered.
"100 Million Miles"
This lush pop song features Lytle from Grandaddy on lead vocals. It has lovely string arrangements that outshine the lyrics, which are much less deep than what you normally hear from Lytle’s own band.
Fran Healy’s opening lyrics — “All of the little conversations in your head. The difficult questions swing both directions” — immediately invite the listener into something more intimate and personal. Although the song has a '70s light rock vibe, it's more than the sum of its influences and one of the stand-out songs on the album. This one sounds closest to Healy's primary band, Travis.
The lyrics to this one — "Hey banana, how ya doing/ Hey banana, won't you stay, won't you lay down with me” — seem like throwaways. But like every other track on this album, the musical arrangements are well crafted and give the song enough bounce to make for a silly, but catchy pop song.
This song is the most Traveling Wilburys-esque of the bunch, and the only one that features all five singers. On the surface it sounds like a love song. But lyrics like “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” suggest it could be more about staying optimistic in a tough political climate.
"Failing at Feeling"
This is the second of Jason Lytle's two songs. Piano serves as the anchor, supporting cascading strings, horns and tympani, which propel the song at a lethargic pace. Although it sounds like "Failing at Feeling" was painstakingly produced and arranged, the lyrics seem like an afterthought. It is reminiscent of John Lennon’s solo career, minus the lyrical depth.
"L.A. on My Mind"
This rocking, mid-tempo song is a nice tribute to California. It's reminiscent of Electric Light Orchestra, with back-up singers providing “Hey, Hey, Heys” on the chorus and a big horn section. The only things missing are the synthesizers. Healy chants, ”All I want is to be warm in the sunshine/ I got, I got, I got LA on my mind.” This tune is uber catchy and perfect for a walk on the beach. You might catch yourself singing along before you finish your first listen.
The sincerity of Bridwell's vocal delivery on "Tara" goes a long way to selling the track. It's a stand-out of the album and, lyrically, one of BNQT's most fully realized songs.
"Fighting the World"
The album closer by Alex Kapranos is our favorite track on Volume 1. It's a slow-paced tune punctuated by Mellotron and tasteful, melodic synth, which create a huge sound recalling Bowie’s more melancholy Berlin era.