Winchester 7 & The Runners – Argos Holiday – EP Review
Well looky here will ya? A passion project fueled by the ol’ mid-life crisis? I’m into it, let’s do this…
As many of the details behind Winchester 7 & The Runners are still coming to light, I wouldn’t profess to know the entire story of this band, but I have discovered a great snapshot view of some information that overall, certainly connected with me personally, and I’d imagine many of you will feel the same. I used to think it was a mindset that came along with being a writer…but I’m willing to extend it to the music & art world at-large as well – no matter what we do, how well we do it, how often or how little – us creative types tend to feel fraudulent at times, or like we never use our skillsets to their maximum potential. You can work around the clock and still feel that way, even with all that effort put in – but it hits you harder when you’re not immersed in applying your talents to what you believe they were truly meant for, or using them as much as you’d like to be. LIFE…has an extremely nasty tendency to get in the way of living our dreams…and sometimes ya gotta draw that line in the sand, definitively make a monumental change of some sort, shake yourself outta the slumber of routine…and MAKE IT HAPPEN.
So yes…you better believe I’ve got a lot of love and respect for Winchester 7 doing exactly that.
According to the legend I’ve been reading about and the details I’ve got in these notes scattered across my desk lit only by this flickering candle beside me, Winchester 7 has been feeling the way that so many of us do, in that he has been longing for a creative freedom that runs opposite to the pulse of the corporate world. We all gotta eat, we all gotta do something with our lives – and far more often than not, we can trap ourselves inside of a job that doesn’t provide us with enough access to free time or the creative side that makes us truly tick. With his education in all-things-entertainment like photography, film, and audio production – Winchester 7 has likely been doing everything he’s been able to do to keep himself sane over the years while not being able to fully immerse himself in his genuine interests where he belongs. I know the feeling, you likely know the feeling, the person next to you six-feet away knows the feeling too…we all sacrifice so much in the process of growing up, and before we even have a chance to really take stock of it all, boom, the grey hairs come in and we’re already there. What continually inspires me personally, is finding artists just like this guy…Winchester 7 is far from being over the hill by any stretch of the imagination, and he’s no longer willing to let a late-start get in his way anymore. He’s putting those skills, those talents, those nuggets of educational information to work – only doing what he loves this time around…and I think regardless of the outcome, for better or worse, any of us out there would admire the pursuit of happiness and never giving up on the dreams you had, no matter how long it takes to realize them in-full. There’s always time around – you just have to find a way to get to it.
And so he did, and he has been, and the results now already proudly speak for themselves. Winchester 7 went & got himself a couple of solid band-mates in Phil Voorhees (Bass) and Jack Kane (Drums), and music has indeed, been made. Over the past year & a half alone, they’ve already released the Beyond The Dome EP & The Forgotten World EP in 2019, and they’re back here now with their third, the Argos Holiday EP, at the end of 2020. Before any of you go thinking that would still only yield a grand-total of twelve songs – think again – you get value with Winchester 7 & The Runners – they’ve been putting AT LEAST seven cuts on each of these records, which by most of the standards of artists/bands out there today, sits right on that threshold of debatably being an album anyway! You factor in the amount of ideas, the level of execution, and the continual output and it all adds up to players that are genuinely invested in what they’ve been up to, engaged, and sincerely having some FUN in the process. I’ll put it to ya another way – it’d be extremely rare to find a band put out so much material in such a short space were it not due to true inspiration; when you feel like you’re grinding it out, things move way slower.
It led me to expect an entertaining & fun album that had passion, and I felt like that’s what I received.
Generating interest and momentum proves to be zero problem as “When The World Stops Spinning” kicks into its blissfully distorted melodic energy. Right off the drop, you can hear the catchiness, you can hear the fun you’d imagine has been created in that whole phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes-of-a-midlife-crisis would come with it, and there’s a killer mix of treble-up awesomeness to be experienced from start to finish. To me, this was like…man…somewhere in between like, Thomas Dolby and The Dandy Warhols combined their wild ideas and addictive grooves together and “When The World Stops Spinning” came out as a result. If you’re familiar with both, you’ll hear what I’m talking about for sure, & you’ll be equally impressed by what a range of sound/style that covers & how much it all fits together. There is a wonderful frenetic energy that runs rampantly throughout this opening cut that leads directly to a remarkable first impression of what Winchester 7 & The Runners are capable of – they’ve clearly put thought into what would make the greatest gateway into Argos Holiday, and they were 100% right. “When The World Stops Spinning” is very slickly & smartly produced with brilliant lo-fi vibes…and between the tightness & brightness of the music, and the absolutely memorable charm & style of Mr. Winchester 7 himself singing this first cut…it took no time at all for them to get me interested in listening to a heck of a lot more & what’s to come on the rest of the record to follow. Love the way the vocals came out, love where they sit in the mix too…I ain’t gonna lie to ya, you rarely hear a mix that works quite as well as this does with this type of design & tone involved with the music, that’s the truth. In a sense, most of everything actually seems quite dialed-back in the mix, yet somehow it’s all still radiantly vibrant when we listen to it & never feels like it lacks that necessary spark. There’s perhaps an argument to be made for more low-end presence…maybe, but I didn’t feel like that was the intention in the way they wanted this particular song to come out – this is already plenty perfect enough right here as it is now if you ask me, tyvm.
What’ll get a bit more pronounced through the second cut “In The Morning,” is the ukulele – which believe it or not, is exactly what you heard in the first song as well, right where you thought the guitar was! Highly interesting to me as well overall, this track was almost more like something between Beirut, The Tragically Hip, and something like Alt-J for a bit of added character & haunting grooves to it. Ideas lead the way when it comes to this second tune – they’re spectacular; and while I think there’s still a bit of room for its potential improvement, they’ve got all the right ingredients involved and stellar hooks. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you’ll hear anything off-putting at all – in fact, I’d probably argue that, outside of the dedicated musicians out there, most listeners wouldn’t notice a thing out of place. For those built with a more discerning audible palette for timing & tuning & whatnot…sure…you might find a questionable moment for a second or two along the way, but it doesn’t end up hurting the overall attraction in wanting to hear this cut, which speaks directly to the strength of their ideas & songwriting. Where this song probably comes out shining the most, in my opinion, has gotta be the vocals here on “In The Morning” – I think the lead from Winchester 7 is straight-up mesmerizing…like, just LISTEN to it will ya? What a voice this guy has! Such a gift for melody on the microphone I tell ya…subtle, but absolutely remarkable…in many moments on this cut, he reminds me a lot of what I love about Mighty Mage, who just so happened to make our top-ten list this year…so that comparison alone should tell ya something. Overall “In The Morning” is a bit of a complex take on a simple design, and there’s a spot or two that might have you feeling like that ambitious nature gets the best of them for a moment, but they also continually generate compelling sound in the process, and have excellent ideas emanating from the lead vocals & cleverly placed harmonies at all times. I’d take its tiny flaws for the bigger wins overall for sure.
You’ll definitely feel those Dandy Warhol-esque vibes come through on “Gonna Start Right Now.” Here’s a fun fact for you regular readers as well: normally, I’m listening to the music I listen to in the open air…as in, blasting outta the speakers around me. For the most part, I never feel like I’m losing too much of the experience, though I’ll always acknowledge, headphones are, and always will be, where it’s at. For whatever reason, the fan on the graphics card on my computer is trying its best to die, and currently sounds like Uncle Buck has shown up to collect the kids…and it’s like, brutally CONSTANT; so while I’ve been sitting here waiting for that new part on order to get here through the Christmas parcel rush, I’m also strapped right into noise-cancelling headphones that leaves nothing in between me & your music. When you make a song like “Gonna Start Right Now” with the mix it has…I mean, damn – you want that appreciated by SOMEONE out there, and headphones are the only way to experience everything it’ll offer ya – I can tell ya that firsthand. Tightness in the band is right back in line where it should be, the music actually gets a bit more time up-front in the spotlight, which is well-earned when it comes to “Gonna Start Right Now.” Awesome use of the lefts & rights on this cut though when you get right into it…it’s about as defined as separation can be in that aspect of one-sided sound…as in, if you were without a left-side speaker or only centers, you’d actually be in for half of the experience overall! Ultimately, I felt like it worked strong for this particular cut and gives the music a ton of personality to match what you’ll find coming through the microphone, which ain’t easy. Still a bit of room to bring up good ol’ Phil, who is absolutely movin’ & groovin’ in behind the brightness of the ukulele distortion and thick vocal melodies – we hear ya over here brother-man, we know you’re crushin’ it back there, 100%. Same thing though, it’s nit-picking at best and just something to consider for the future – when it comes right down to it, don’t be mistaking that for any kind of complaint – “Gonna Start Right Now” jams.
I…still don’t quite know how I feel about “My Super 8,” even after several trips through this record. On the one hand, I think I’m as relentlessly addicted to the sound of electrified ukulele as much as Winchester 7 is…so that remains a factor, and it generally pulls me on board with this cut each time I spin it. I suppose what I’d say is that its noticeably artistic ambition takes away from the naturally accessible hooks that run so prevalently throughout the first three tunes…so there is a bit of a trade-off at work here, but it’s moves like this that open the doors creatively and continue to help assist bands like Winchester 7 & The Runners in their evolution over time. In the grand scheme of things, pursuing ideas like this serve a much greater purpose, whether we realize it at first or not; one day, they’ll be able to look back specifically at a song like “My Super 8” and pinpoint how it directly led them towards something else they’ll do in the future. For myself personally, I dig on what folks tend to call ‘college rock’ quite a bit – and this is pretty much that to a tee on many levels…”My Super 8” doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not…it’s just honest music being made, purely for the love of the game, and I love that. My gut tells me this is gonna be a tougher one for the masses to follow along with and absorb…at least at first…but yeah…I dunno…there’s really something about the upbeat attitude in the sound of this song that still seems to really make a major connection if you ask me. Reminds me a lot of early cuts by Athlete on the records like Vehicles & Animals in the energy…and unique like the indie band Skittish too.
Some of the textures & tones you’ll find from Winchester 7’s ukulele on “The Saint Simon Killer” SHOULD absolutely blow your mind to listen to. There are a couple spots specifically in this tune where I just stopped while I was listening to marvel for a minute or two longer at what I’d just heard in that regard. Like, specifically, right around the 1:52 spot – are you freakin’ kidding me? That’s audio gold right there is what that is folks, and it’s just a fraction of this cut. That being said…”The Saint Simon Killer” is another track where a few cracks in the armor do get revealed; some in the timing area by split-seconds here & there, and in the context of the record itself, this track heads downwards a degree in volume a tad too much in comparison to the rest of the lineup. Easily resolved issues…and again, when you’ve got ideas as strong as you’ll tend to find in the set-list of the Argos Holiday record, it’s worth putting in that extra attention to detail and being as objective as possible. Winchester 7 & The Runners should not fool themselves into thinking this could all be merely a hobby or an activity to keep’em all busy…they’ve got ideas that really work wonders, and musicianship that is more than capable of getting them to where they wanna go. Because other than a bit of hesitant awkwardness in the timing of this cut, I think it’s a seriously strong tune that’s got every chance of making an impact on listeners out there. Between the haunting, mysterious sound & slight twinge of psychedelic vibes creeping into the verses, and the excellent expansion of the way it blossoms from verse to chorus…there’s not a doubt in my mind that they’ve latched onto something strong here…it just needs a bit more audible lovin’ is all.
“Dirty Laundry” is a charming cut that’ll have the majority on board no problemo I’d reckon, and it’s got my favorite solo moment I think in any tune on this record…cleverly straight-ahead & simple, but highly effective. Mix-wise…I still think there’s room for this band to grow in the future…when it comes to this cut, it’s a little bit dominated by that beautiful distortion of the ukulele that Winchester 7 and I love so much. Don’t get me wrong y’all…that’s his name leading the way on the ol’ marquee overhead – but I will promise the man he’ll get more outta these tunes overall by bringing that low-end up a bit more in the mix…it really can’t hurt, because that ukulele is always going to be such a vibrant & noticeable part of the sound that we’d never miss it…but there is a chance the bass is getting lost on what it contributes to a cut like “Dirty Laundry” by listening ears. Again, for me, I’m not personally complaining…I love the resonating frequencies of this ukulele thing goin’ on…but I’d be lying to ya by omission if I didn’t say it felt like on this track it tends to dominate the rest in terms of what we hear by a fair margin. Even things like the main melodic layer that the ukulele has as well gets threatened by that takeover of the second layer as the track plays on…and with such impressive songwriting, lyricism, and parts along the way of the structure in this cut…you just wanna make sure that it somehow all gets the credit that it’s due. Music’s a wonderfully complex thing in that respect…again, I’ve got no problem at all turning “Dirty Laundry” right up to the rafters and absorbing every second of the rumble in that ukulele’s melody – for others, they’ll wanna get to the heart of the vocals & rhythm the bass supplies a bit more…and I understand both sides of the coin. It’s the same reason I love bands like The Strokes that sink their vocals deep into the mix, or bands that choose to highlight certain aspects of their musicianship/vocals by placing different emphasis on different pieces along the distance of a full record’s experience; in my opinion, it’s smart moves made like this that might cost a percentage of listeners from the mainstream audience, but ultimately leads towards a much more dedicated fan-base that genuinely digs things as they are. If they get better, or they morph, or change in the future – those will be the same fans that’ll have no problem sticking with them as Winchester 7 & The Runners continue to evolve, expand, & grow.
Besides…lest we forget…a lot of making this music comes down to just turning up the instruments for a real good time, full-stop. It doesn’t have to be as serious as I tend to take it in critically examining any record I end up writing about, this one included – sometimes you just wanna have a reason to reach for the volume and not worry about all the minutiae…to embrace the moment & the freedom that comes with making music…believe me, I get it. It’s a strong part of the attraction to this entire record for me – and as far as those particular freewheelin’ vibes are concerned, they’ve give ya one final dose of distorted sweetness at the end with “The Golden Age.” I do think you get the best glimpse of the relationship between the rhythm section on this final cut…even though yes, I’m still 100% positive the ukulele tends to stand out the most once again. WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO THOUGH, WHEN YOU HAVE THAT ASSET, ASIDE FROM TURN IT UP THE RAFTERS? Every single time “The Golden Age” started roaring up with its early-R.E.M. college-rock style vibes and humble-yet-bold harmonies I was addicted to this final cut all over again. Audiophiles…you’ll get me…the texture of the rumble in that ukulele alone is worth the price of admission, to this tune, and to much of this record at-large – and rightly so. Love the twist on the ending and how it’s got that same kind of wild uniqueness that the EP began with – it’s catchy, it fully restores the fun to the record to its max potential at the end, and that’s the kind of lasting impression you wanna leave people with…the kind that doesn’t need to last at all if you’re instantly reaching for a repeat. What you’ll hear in the set of seven cuts on this record definitely warrants that re-spin…there’s a whole lot of intangible awesomeness being started in Winchester 7 & The Runners…maybe they don’t even fully realize it themselves yet…but there’s something special beginning to brew here in this band, and you can easily hear it in the quality of their ideas at all times.
When you’re really into it like Winchester 7, Jack, and Phil clearly are – you think of things from fan’s perspective in terms of value and retain that connection to what makes music a memorable experience. YES…you can read that as in, not only do they make sure they stuff the max length into an EP before it’d strictly be argued by all that, ‘hey man, that’s actually a full-length record’ – but YES, BONUS STUFF TOO!
I don’t know what hoops or hellfire you’ll have to jump through to obtain’em…I’ll let you keep your eyes peeled for the details on that…I have the feeling it’s one of those awesome bonuses you find out after you download their record after purchase…but one way or the other, hit’em up and demand these two cuts come along for the ride, because they’re essential! They add an excellent cover of Bowie’s megahit “Modern Love” and do a spectacular job with the spaced-out sound, vocal layers & effects. I mean, let’s be real here…Winchester 7 & The Runners have been putting out music for a year & a half, and David Bowie was likely around for every minute of their lives prior to the band – and in that respect, it’s almost natural that Winchester 7 gets one of his strongest vocal performances into this bonus tune, because heck, he’d know it by heart in far more familiar ways than the songs he’s even written personally, simply due to how long they’ve been around for. So yes indeed…checkmark in the win column for their cover of “Modern Love” – ultimately, there’s no question it’s always a highlight tune for listeners no matter which form it tends to come in, but there’s no denying that Winchester 7 & The Runners create a compelling version that both works and suits their own strengths perfectly.
Lo & behold folks…it’s the one that got away! Enlisting the assistance of A-list uber-producer Stuart Epps – who notably recently appeared on our pages in a remix of a Damien Q single called “Human To Human” – they’ve got so much closer to the tightness they were originally seeking out in creating this tune. Like I’ve said a million times…a song can lead multiple lives to begin with, and there’s also zero shame in the game of connecting with someone that can help bring the best out of you & your music. Not only am I familiar with Stuart’s incredible abilities from working with legendary names like Oasis, Elton John, and Led Zeppelin – but he’s already proven to be a tremendous guide to the independent music-scene in the journey of their own evolution. Having Epps as a resource that artists/bands can turn to…I mean…that’s just incredible when it comes right down to it y’all…and he certainly brings his magic to the remix of “The Saint Simon Killer,” ironing out all the aforementioned quirks I felt could have been a factor in tainting the original version’s accessibility. Sometimes having that outside perspective can contribute a ton to the overall sound & development of a band’s future…and I’d definitely be paying close attention to the differences made in “The Saint Simon Killer (Stuart Epps Remix)” as a blueprint for the potential that could still be mined further in the mix of their music going forward. There’s no denying that Winchester 7 & The Runners has proven to be more than capable of doing everything they need with the tools they already possess throughout the majority of the Argos Holiday EP – but there’s also no denying the enlistment of Epps creates one seriously spectacular bonus highlight to enjoy too.
The bottom line is, the future is filled with potential for Winchester 7 & The Runners, and they’ve got an extraordinary wealth of ideas & material to work with already. It’ll be up to them as far as to just how much they wanna push their band to that next-level, or whether it remains a passion project designed to unearth its front-man from the despair of mid-life crisis…but they’ve definitely got what it takes to carve themselves out a permanent spot of their own on playlists out there, that I can tell ya for sure. From the sounds of things, those despairing times of uncertainty and unease are already behind them – and after all I’ve experienced on this record, I’d be more than willing to bet they continue surging forward super strong from here and reveal massive leaps in their abilities and evolution every time they push record.
Find out more about Winchester 7 & The Runners at their official homepage at: https://winchester7andtherunners.com
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