“When people ask what kind of music I play…I don’t really know what to say. All I can really say is that the desert is integral to my sound.”
So says Brandon Decker. Since 2009, the Sedona, AZ based songwriter has written, produced and released a trove of mesmerizing music; an expansive palette of folk, gospel, rock and psychedelia recorded under the nom de plume decker.
“Tailor-made for a Coen Brothers western,” as one reviewer put it, “the music is dark, atmospheric and uncomfortably honest.”
While hard to pigeonhole, there’s a purposeful duality to decker.’s work; it’s sparse while full. Also: intense, romantic, cryptic and raw.
All those characteristics and more are readily apparent on Patsy, decker.’s latest release and follow-up to 2013’s much-hailed “desert gospel masterpiece” Slider. Recorded at WaveLab Recording Studio (Neko Case, Iron & Wine, DeVotchKa) in Tucson, Patsy veers from quiet shuffles to noisy guitar jams and horn-driven ballads, but never becomes quixotic or difficult.
It’s hypnotic stuff. And a huge leap forward for the singer.
“You’re always evolving,” he explains. “If we’re not evolving, something is wrong.”
Recorded with a bevy of Tucson-based musicians, the cohesion on Patsy comes first and foremost lyrically. “I knew the album was going to be called Patsy the moment I realized I had to make another album,” says Decker. “I had written a few new songs after swearing I would not make an album this year, and in the midst of writing we got this opportunity to work with Craig at WaveLab. From there it all came together quite quickly. All the songs come from a similar spot.”
On Patsy, that similar spot is Decker examining the plight of the everyman. “It’s exploring our innate weaknesses; how our lives are reactive and how we grapple with the inevitability living has to offer.”
While he declares the record is in no way a political statement, but rather an exploration of humanness, the singer touches on socio-economic constructs and political failings. On the title track—an initially pretty acoustic number that veers dynamic and dark—he invokes the image of Lee Harvey Oswald. “Never better over there/never better anywhere” he laments, as the song builds to a repeated refrain of “they shot me down.”
From an eerie melancholy opening to a foot-stomping midsection and through an extended guitar freakout, the album’s nine-minute musical tour de force “Cellars” actually sums up the album’s theme most succinctly. It’s bitter, but defiant. “I’m not dead but I’m still crawling,” Decker sings. “The walls were made for falling down. I’m not mad but I’m still calling the man who made me shut my mouth.”
As for the duality: the album is bookended (save for a quick intro) by “ODB” and “Ol Dirty Revival,” two themed tracks that lean gospel revival over psychedelic guitar folk. Musical outliers here, in a way similar to Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street,” they fit Decker’s vision of people betrayed by the outer, unknown dwellers of their social, artistic and professional circles. (And yes, the singer was vibing a certain late Wu-Tang rapper.)
Decker plans to tour extensively after Patsy’s release with a full national tour planned for March and April 2015. A popular live act, he and his band have shared the stage with the likes of The Local Natives, Dr. Dog, Deer Tick and Keller Williams.
“I have a bit of a blue collar work ethic when it comes to this,” says the singer, who’s performed over 600 shows in the last five years. He laughs. “Maybe there’s a bit of ‘suffering for my art’ and the working man’s plight somewhere in there as well.”
He ends that thought on a more serious note. “But you do this — the album, the touring, the fraying of relationships and health — because you have to do it. This is my life. My legacy. There’s no alternative to that. You have to go after your vision and make it work. As all of us do.”