The Runners are thankfully still running, and after three years out of the races, they’ve emerged with some extra steeping in psychedelia. All the better—Elements is the band continuing to do what they do very well.
Musically, the album tips its hat to the 60s while also throwing in some interesting melodic changes and throwing things off with unexpected instruments. “Wolves,” for instance, pairs shimmering, ghostly vocals with a fairly straightforward guitar line, but as it moves on it oh-so-briefly brings in banjo and then flute. “Ivory Towers” feels stark and beautiful during the first verse, with just vocals and the occasional chiming synth, When the horn replaces the synth it sounds even more pretty, but the song expands as the guitars and percussion come back in, later adding in keys and strings, too.
The guitars, of course, are funky or fuzzy as the need arises. The guitar of “You Gotta Remind Me” is firmly in the former camp, while the ideologically darker “High Tide” has guitars getting a bunch crunchier.
The lyrics of Elements are what makes the album so compelling. As with many albums that precede it, the characters here are struggling with the big questions of life and death, and are wanting or in possession of some kind of love. But the lyrics often hide behind otherwise “happier” arrangements.
“It’s So Lovely,” with its bright guitars and beat that will have you bopping your head, could be a song of the summer if a) this album was released in the summer and b) there weren’t lyrics that seemed to suggest the narrator might be holding his lover captive. The song suggests this narrator might be taking things a little too far. “The One,” meanwhile, musically feels like it could be a spiritual healing song with its group vocals and shakers. But the narrator has trust issues: “I let people in and become broken, disillusioned with everything that I see.”
And sometimes lyrics and music are in full alignment. “Asleep Awake” could have been a Beatles song were it not for the louder guitars later on. The softer, acoustic-based strumming perfectly suits it for a late-night song. The minor chords on “Pulling it Together” suggest an overcoming of some sort; the narrator compels his beloved to “Leave behind this dying world…”
After much traversing of the steep hills of life and love, the Runners cross the finish the with a pretty duet, “Walk Straight,” which leans more into folk and country with its pedal steel and strings.
The comfort and confidence of this band, shown in spades on Elements, bodes well for their future; they’re like a best friend who you haven’t seen in ages but can pick up with right where you left off.
Top Tracks: “The One”; “It’s so Lovely”; “High Tide”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)