Winchester 7 & The Runners – Catacomb Songs

 Winchester 7 & The Runners – Catacomb Songs

Winchester 7 & The Runners – Catacomb Songs – Album Review

I am excited to announce…that in the background here, while I’ve been listening to the latest album by Winchester 7 & The Runners called Catacomb Songs, I’ve also been putting together a whole set of questions for these dudes to answer for an upcoming interview special on the SBS Podcast!  Stoked to feature these guys more in 2022…so rest assured, we’ll get to the bottom of the mystery that is Winchester 7 & The Runners and see if we can find out what these guys are really all about – keep your eyes peeled to our pages, and you’ll be the first to know when that episode pops up online this year.

At this point, they’ve got some history, and we’ve got some with’em – so that should make for a solid conversation.  I’m always curious about a band like these guys, but never worried about’em – make sense?  The best way I can put it is that I’ve run into similar levels of inspired bands & artists out there before at the particular point in life that these chaps are at right now…Winchester 7 & The Runners is one of those acts I’d be more than willing to bet will be making music for at least a decade or more still to follow, now that they’ve tapped into what they can do.  These dudes clearly love jammin’ & makin’ music together.  When I originally ran into them, I was checking out an album called Argos Holiday, which was actually their third record, following two that were released in 2019, Beyond The Dome, and The Forgotten World.  Admittedly, I jumped into the middle of it all…which always gives ya a snapshot of the full story, so truly, I’m excited to find out more about Winchester 7 & The Runners when we pin them down for a few answers to our questions this year.  Technically, I’ve only had the one other interaction beyond that initial first experience with Argos Holiday, which was an advance single called “Beneath The Moon And The Stars,” which appears twice here in the lineup of Catacomb Songs, as an extended edition, & as a bonus remix for ya at the end too.

If dead celebrities can have new beginnings, why can’t you and I?” they muse as the album begins – and you know something?  I’m inclined to say that’s as insightful as it is observant – I hadn’t considered that before now, but now that I’m thinkin’ about it – that seems fair to me.  Heck, it speaks to second-chances when it comes right down to it, wouldn’t you say?  “Dead Celebrities And New Beginnings” is a solid start to the new album by Winchester 7 & The Runners that gives you a dose of their ukulele-led sound and harmonic style, and reveals the depth within the lyrics as well.  As I always say around these pages of ours, we all gotta write about something right?  I dig tracks like this that approach the craft with cleverness – conceptually, at its core, “Dead Celebrities And New Beginnings” is relatable and similar to themes you’ve connected with in the past, but they’re communicating these things uniquely – that make any sense?  Essentially what I’m saying is, while they might be writing about something that’s technically been written about before, they’re doing it in their own way, which makes it entirely fresh and new to experience…their own perspective & point of view – and ultimately I’d tell ya that’s a large part of the identity in the music of Winchester 7 & The Runners; they make music on their terms, 100%.  Gentle Folk-Rock, but with that added vibrant edge of the distortion in the mix to give a song like “Dead Celebrities And New Beginnings” the right spark to ramp things up, and it’s equally effective when that layer dissipates & we slide right into serenity for a moment or two along the way as well.  All-in-all, it works…I will fully admit, I think that Catacomb Songs reveals more powerful & memorable hooks in the tunes to follow, but “Dead Celebrities And New Beginnings” gives us enough without giving it all away straight off the drop.  For a three-piece that’s really got their own thing, they’ve found impressive ways to diversify this set…and as this record plays on, they’ll take it all from a good start, into great highlights.

“The Song That You Sing” brings more of the Rock-side of their sound to the forefront in comparison to the melodically-driven opening tune…and they’re feelin’ it here, which I dig.  You could just as easily call this Indie-Rock, or LoFi Rock…College Rock or Garage Rock even to a degree…you can categorize’em all you wanna or compare’em to something else that’s out there if you’d like to – I’m just here to tell ya what works, and I like that there’s a bit of a rougher edge to this particular tune.  Listen to genius details like you’ll find between the 1:20-1:50-ish mark in the background and how much of a significant role that plays…for a three-piece band – and one that doesn’t lean on guitar, it’s genuinely stunning to hear how full these songs can be.  That twisted lead from the ukulele is something else to listen to man…we’re talkin’ straight outta this world type-sound, and combined with the different frequencies & layers they combine into their music, Winchester 7 & The Runners seem to end up sounding like a ten-piece as opposed to three.   Really clever details in the background all the way through if you’re listening, from the clapping of the audience in the background, to the backing vocals & layers between the mic & the music – I appreciate the time they’ve taken to add the kind of depth & dimension you hear in that regard.  On the surface of it all, I’m probably more split to be truthful – I think what it is for me is that I felt like the verse outshines the chorus here a bit…in general, this cut seems to have a steady enough balance to keep you interested & listening, but maybe missing a bit of that memorable spark we need to get us ranting & raving about it.  What I like about “The Song That You Sing” is that it’s not just a typical Indie-Rock song…there’s a lot of ideas that work here, but I’m not fully convinced they haven’t left just a little on the table as far as the overall results are concerned or the strength in the material somehow.  I suppose it’s also just as fair to say that, within the context of any album we’re gonna find what we like, love what we love, and some cut still has to end up at the bottom of our list of favorites.  I look at it like this – I still enjoy listening to “The Song That You Sing,” and if this is the track that ended up at the bottom of my list, or yours, then Winchester 7 & The Runners are in pretty great shape overall.

I was listening to “Up On The 13th Floor” and trying to figure out what the vibe of Winchester 7 & The Runners was reminding me of…not so much maybe this particular song, maybe it was me still searching for that one comparison that might make sense.  In any event, I give this song the credit for helping me figure that out finally at long last…I’ve mentioned The Dandy Warhols in the past reviews I’ve written and I stand by that to a degree still…but here on this record, it was actually more of a Donovan vibe I felt like I was pickin’ up.  Some of that real “Hurdy Gurdy Man”-type of artistic uniqueness infused with a splash or two of the ol’ psychedelic overtones through filtered vocals, you know what I mean cool cats?  I think it’s the low-end of the bass that might push the levels & threshold of these songs to such a thick vibe & a bit of a muddier mix in the music at times…it can be a bit of a dominating trait when we listen, but I felt in this instance it was also a huge part of what makes “Up On The 13th Floor” work.  Overall, this is a perfect example of a song that’s got no chance of being left on the cutting room floor – it’s too good, too well-written, and too clever to leave behind…even if it might benefit from a slight polishing.  That’s all personal taste & whatnot anyhow…to me, I’m cool with it – I think the production probably stands out a bit more clearly on every other cut on the record, but there’s nothing remotely off-putting here either – “Up On The 13th Floor” has an immaculately smooth groove building its foundation, and every time this track came back on in rotation, they had me paying complete attention.  Not that I’m zoning out for the rest, that’s not what I mean – you get it – we’re talkin’ about a solid cut that deserves whatever extra percentage of your ear-time and attention you can give to it.  For me, this was perhaps the most pivotal cut in the lineup…a transition & departure that seemed to send the set-list in a more gripping direction that really found itself on solid ground.  There’s something about the mysterious & curious vibe in the atmosphere of “Up On The 13th Floor” that was as compelling as it was groovin’ in its smooth low-end led sound…I stand by it needing just a touch of something in the mix, or a slight dialing back of a few ingredients involved to give it just a bit more clarity in its mellowest moments – BUT – if this is what I get, then y’ain’t gonna find me refusing it as it stands right now – this is a really great song.

With as much of an inherently unique sound as this band has, largely due to the ukulele-driven tunes they create – drifting closer towards a more standard melody in the writing itself can pay off big-time for these guys…just listen to the spectacularly endearing results in a track like “Ever Said” for proof of that.  I think I’d be mighty inclined to put this mellow tune right up there with my favorites on this album for sure…if I’m being real with ya, there’s not a thing about it that I’d ever wanna change – it’s still got enough freshness to it through the filtered vocal sound & brilliant harmonies in this tune for it to slide right past the fact that it’s built on fairly simple ingredients on a technical level.  But that’s the thing y’all – we don’t always need super-intricate, wildly involved tunes – sometimes we just want melody, done right – and that’s exactly what you’ll find “Ever Said” provides.  An excellent example of maximizing every moment in a song and enhancing what genuinely makes it special beyond the mere notes & tones of what we hear, “Ever Said” becomes a seriously hypnotic & mesmerizing mellow groove that’s pretty much irresistible if you ask me.  There’s just something so innocent & unassuming about the way it sounds, especially in the verses – and hearing Winchester 7 & The Runners shift into the chorus and really take hold of their confidence as the melody transforms…I mean c’mon y’all…it might be on the slower-side of songs out there in this world, but they are absolutely nailing the vibe of this cut, 100%.  An understated, subtle & delicate tune, “Ever Said” displays a serious mastery of melody – LISTEN to the way Winchester bends his words as he hooks you in through the way he sings the chorus, or how the backing vocals contribute to the final verse…there are so many solid moments of significant highlights for him on the microphone here – he hit that sweet-spot between endearing and engaging bang-on.  On a personal level, I would have an extremely tough time not declaring this as my #1 favorite…it’s got pretty much everything I’m lookin’ for from unique instrumentation & ideas, to the sheer brilliance of melody at its finest…true grit in the writing and an artistically-inclined performance – what’s not to love?  I’m really interested in what’s happening in the backing vocals here too…it’s produced with noticeable clarity in comparison to the lead…I’d still assume it’s Winchester based on what I hear – but there’s something really special there that should definitely be looked into further.  I dig the filtered lead he tends to use for the textures it provides…but by that same token, if I’m hearing what I’m hearing in the background of “Ever Said,” this dude can seriously belt it out too, and has quite the voice that we might not even realize yet, largely because he’s always masked a bit by the effects & his mellowed-out vibes.

Solid WRITING leads Winchester 7 & The Runners to victory on “Riding High Again” – and they’ve got a performance to rival it.  All-in-all, I think they’ve got the mix dialed-in really tightly on this track as well – I’m not saying it’s my favorite in the set necessarily, but it’s right up there.  Kind of like a low-key version of The Strokes here…they’ve got a real classy & classic vibe running deep through this song, and once again, I felt like Winchester found a remarkable hook to fuel the chorus & keep you coming back to this song for another round.  Right from the drop they get me interested in “Riding High Again” – which honestly, I thought they might have had a harder time with considering how much I loved “Ever Said” just before this track in the lineup – it SHOULD have been harder for them to win me over here in this spot on the album, and I don’t think they could have played this moment any more perfectly than they have.  “Riding High Again” could very well be THE single on this record – and they should consider that a massive victory – it’s got fantastic artistic depth through the lyricism and brilliant word selection, it’s got undeniably accessible sound and what could completely be the most memorable hook of the bunch in the chorus of this song as well…the music’s tight, the vocals are stunning; it’s another cut that’s got it all.  For real though y’all – LISTEN to this chorus will ya?  Win’s addin’ the honey into this one – it’s perfect.  Steady as she goes all-around on this track right from the drop…”Riding High Again” has immaculate levels of audible appeal that are shiny, beautiful, artistic, and unique…the people should love this tune.  I’d be takin’ a real hard look at this song if I were this band…this cut is bulletproof from start to finish, and with the right snazzy video to go along with it, you never know…it’s tracks like this with a ton of crossover appeal that are major gateways into an artist’s or band’s catalog…this could be a hit for’em.

Is “Arcade Days” the “Pinball Wizard” of Winchester 7 & The Runners’ catalog?  I’ll let you decide.  They amp up the Rock element here once again…introduce the nostalgia aspect into the theme, and revisit the old “Arcade Days” long passed.  Would I have substituted the bonus cut “Head On” in for this one?  Yeah – personally, I would have – but that doesn’t mean YOU would have, and clearly Winchester 7 & The Runners didn’t feel that way either.  I’ve got nothing major against “Arcade Days” – ultimately what they’re going for here, is kind of what works against it – they were going for throwback sound laced with memories & nostalgia…and that’s what you’ll find…it just doesn’t quite have that same inspired feeling of doing something decisively fresh & new that Catacomb Songs seems to have surrounding it by comparison.  It’s not meant to – that’s what I’m saying – so in terms of songwriting, it’s a mission accomplished and I don’t think there’s anything at all to complain about really.  I dig the added synth sounds and video-game details in the background…I like that they use a different approach to the backing vocals yet again here, and another that works really smartly in the verses – and in terms of how it’s played, I think you gotta give’em all real credit here.  Phil’s rockin’ the bass, Jack’s kickin out the jams from the throne, and Win’s as on-point here as ever in the way he plays & sings this tune as well – it’s really just a matter of whether or not this kind of Who-esque sound does it for ya.  I gotta admit, I have a hard time resisting the instrumentation happening outside of the main verses & choruses – that’s WILD stuff man…and it radiates with badass, inventive, gritty Rock sound straight outta your speakers.  So don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong – “Arcade Days” still has plenty worth tuning in for, it’s just a much more stylistically-inclined cut with a much more specific sound is all…it could still be #1 for some.

As far as “Beneath The Moon And The Stars” is concerned, you’ll find the majority of my thoughts on this cut likely still stand from my previous review on it in advance of Catacomb Songs, from last year.  I still dig it…I maintain it’s like a combination of something like Elvis or Orbison with something like The Dandy Warhols…the hooks are strong…you’re not gonna find me complaining about this tune, it’s got that live-wire vibe designed to be turned up.  More importantly, it’s cohesive with this particular set of songs by Winchester 7 & The Runners, and makes sense to have in this lineup – it fits.  Retroactively, it also helps support having tracks like “The Song That You Sing” and “Arcade Days” a bit more just by having it included…and hey man, that’s what singles & EPs are SUPPOSED to be for – you’re supposed to be finding those gems that the people out there dig on, and then STACK those records of yours with the gold!  I swear that’s printed right on page one of the handbooks they pass out when you start becoming a musician, no?  It’s a tried, tested, and true tune – it’s racked up a massive amount of plays online so far, and proven to be Winchester 7 & The Runners most verifiable hit to-date – they’re giving ya more of what YOU love & what YOU want here with the “Extended Version” at the end of the official lineup, and another remix version still to follow at the very end of the bonus tunes, which extend the album to nine tracks total.  It was a really good move to include this cut…usually I don’t often recommend including any song twice in a short set, and I definitely wouldn’t do it if the versions weren’t different enough to be able to notice the changes made – in this instance, Winchester 7 & The Runners make sure that is a priority, and it works.  It was smart to tweak the main version we’d hear on the record just a bit to make it different from the original cut released in advance, and with the changes made to the final remix at the end of Catacomb Songs, it’s more than welcome to make a return, even only being two songs apart.

So…now we’re in the bonus round!  “Head On” is the first of two cuts you get as extra additions onto Catacomb Songs, and like I said, I’m probably a bit more partial to this track than I am a few that made the official lineup…so there you have it – the extended edition is already worth your time to check out.  They’re almost like a cross between Billy Idol and The Ramones here, but without being any of them – AND…WHAT DID I TELL YOU earlier on?  Listen to the vocals of this song…specifically towards the end of “Head On” – it’s a lot more clear & straight-ahead in terms of how we hear Win sing this track.  For those out there that have been wondering who the Winnard Of Oz was behind the curtain, “Head On” gives you a peek into that for real – and like I was tellin’ ya, there is a fantastically talented singer in this guy when he wants to light it up & take the energy to the next level.  While it could be one of the other dudes in the background…whatever the recipe is, it works perfectly in tandem with the lead-vocals.  And like…what IS that moment…right around the…2:15 spot…good gravy-boat lighthouse, for a brief couple of bars, I thought Winchester 7 & The Runners were going to slip straight into the Houses Of The Holy and give us some Zeppelin for a second there.  There’s a lot of accessibility that works in their favor on “Head On” – and while I might have wanted it included in the official lineup, not every song we’ll ever write can end up on one record…in terms of cohesion, they probably made the right choice – I can hear that.  It’s just a bit more on the Pop-side of their Rock-infused sound than the majority of the lineup I guess…but the flipside of the coin is that when people do discover the bonus cuts, they’ll instantly start diggin’ on what they hear and be fully stoked to get some more Winchester 7 & The Runners to turn up.  Another chorus completely nailed…it’d be tough to resist the hooks of “Head On” – so I ain’t gonna try.

What is that?  Are they sending a fax in the background as the bonus version of “Beneath The Moon And The Stars (PJ Gowan & Stardust Studios Extended Mix)” begins?  I ain’t complainin’ – sounds awesome to me, and these kind of sonic details are totally my jam.  Chances are it’s another bite of tone from the ukulele unleashed in an unpredictable-but-awesomely-unique way…who knows what these chefs are puttin’ into the sauce, I just know what’s tasty – and this is that.  I really dig the spin they’ve put into this last bonus cut on Catacomb Songs…the enhanced drums, the way the background comes alive in all kinds of ways…and wait a second here – that’s not a fax at all!  That’s a freakin’ DIAL-UP MODEM and the previous sound of my NIGHTMARES!  Crazy how welcome that set of frequencies is to me now as an audiophile – I’d damn near listen to a dial-up modem connecting by choice on its own and be more than entertained.  I guess that probably tells ya something about me, now doesn’t it?  ANYHOW – listening to “Beneath The Moon And The Stars (PJ Gowan & Stardust Studios Extended Mix)” felt like hearing the Winchester 7 & The Runners vibe with a bit more stylistically slick & noticeable cool sound in the mix – the original, but enhanced for your pleasure.  I might even make an argument that this version makes an accessible song even MORE accessible…or at the very least, gives it another dimension of sound and potential avenue to continue growing their audience with a song that listeners verifiably keep diggin’ on.  Now they can do that in multiple ways, with multiple versions!  It’s crisp, ya know?  I felt like all of what we love and should be really hearing in the musicianship & vocals gets a real chance to shine in this third version of “Beneath The Moon And The Stars” that I’ve heard – it might be the best of the bunch of’em.  In any event…like I said – the bonus version is where it’s at…don’t go missing out on those final two cuts, and make sure to keep your eyes peeled on our pages here, so you don’t miss out on our interview with Winchester 7 & The Runners when we talk tunes with’em on the SBS Podcast – coming soon in 2022!

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