The album, “Heart of the Golden Mystics” by Winchester 7 & the Runners – which officially drops on December 22 – is easily accessible on a surface level, and has a series of irresistible musical moments, that’s almost unparalleled. However buried in its underbelly is a complex and intriguing concept. “The album takes our work in a new direction. Remaining varied in musical influence, it puts a murder mystery to music where we know the killer from the start. Or do we?” states Winchester 7, on discussing the 7-track recording. For those still strangely unaware of just who this band is, Winchester 7 & the Runners is a ukulele rock band, consisting of bandleader, vocalist and ukulele maestro Winchester 7, and virtual Runners Phil Voorhees (bass) who resides in Amsterdam, and Jack Kane (drums) who is itinerant in the UK.
Though Winchester 7 & the Runners are authentically independent, they are at risk of being swept into the mainstream maelstrom, due to the sheer force of their songwriting and performing prowess, which is becoming more and more difficult to contain within a niche indie market.
The “Heart of the Golden Mystics” album speaks for itself, and for the band. It’s a fresh, captivating and devilishly clever project, and one of the most thrilling and singular alternative rock albums released this year, independent or not.
Recorded in Winchester 7’s Georgia-based Sanctuary Studio, “Heart of the Golden Mystics” jumps out of the box full of thumping drums and roaring guitar-like ukulele riffs, on the album opener, “The Saint Simon Killer Returns”.
The catchy vocal hooks come rolling out in mellifluous waves over an upbeat crunchy sounding groove, and the first singular lesson this track teaches us about Winchester 7 & the Runners, is to believe the hype. This project is all that it sets out to be. And it is such from the get-go.
“Her Double Life” is cleaner and smoother sounding, as it unfolds across an insistent but comfortable mid-tempo beat. Winchester 7’s knack for earworm melodies is on full display here. “Married for the Money” quickly puts us right back into the grit and crunch of Winchester 7’s extraordinary ukulele stylings.
The momentum of the moment is maintained on “The Sum of Our Mistakes”, where the layered screams of the ukulele and the dynamic drumming add luster to a fairly urgent arrangement. “Miss Merry’s Memoriam” is wrapped inside an intoxicating and hesitant beat, as the jangling ukulele lays down a sweeping foundation for Winchester 7’s echoing vocals.
The crushing riffs and solos, along the determined drumbeat, underscore the rich vocal harmonies on “Your House of Cards”, before the album closes with the upbeat bounce of “Things Will Never Be the Same”. So who killed who? I have no clue. The music, melodies, vocals are harmonies are so mesmerizingly infectious on this album, I found it hard to even scrutinize the lyric sheet.
All of which means that “Heart of the Golden Mystics” will have an extremely durable shelf-life, calling you back, again and again, to unpack and digest its many sonic and lyrical wares. Ever since their debut release, Winchester 7 & the Runners have been met with both intrigue and awe.
On the new album, the fantastical trio’s electrifying ukulele-driven, alternative-rock stylings will continue to jolt a genre-stiffened industry from its slumber, and gives rise to sincere premonitions of sure-fire upcoming success.