“PATSY” by decker. : A Philosphical Treatise

The first time I encountered decker. they were touring in support of their second release Long As The Night (2010) and looking soon forward to their third. I had never heard them or heard of them before and I’m not sure how they had escaped my radar. It was at the Rogue Bar and I remember standing their transfixed for the entire set, I’m not sure I even moved or blinked the entire time. It was as though their music was literally invoking the spirits of the southwest to accompany them and it felt like a desert wind was blowing through me. Since that time I have followed their every move and covered their subsequent releases, each getting better and better. Two years ago I wrote “…somehow decker. carves something unique out of the quintessence they grasp in the land of red clay mountains and vortices—the music takes on something a spiritual mantle, nothing religious or new age driven, but a deeper, ancient calling rooted to the land itself” and this certainly still stands. I was foolishly doubtful they could top the mastery of Slider, but I have to say that their new album Patsy does exactly that, they have continued to organic evolve into a desert force until themselves and the proof is in this album.

Patsy was recorded at WaveLab Recording Studio in Tucson with an ensemble cast of some of the best musicians in all of Arizona. At the center of these recordings is the core band itself which is the leader, visionary, singer and guitarist Brandon Decker, keyboardist Amber Johnson, bassist Andrew Bates and percussionist and singer Kelly Cole (who has since departed the band). Meanwhile the luminaries that join the cast seems nearly endless whether it’s Henri Benard (Dry River Yacht Club), or Dan Tripp (Field Tripp, Snake!Snake!Snakes!), or Katherine Byrnes & Ryan Alfred (Sweet Ghosts), or Steff Koeppen (Steff & The Articles) it is an unreal cast of talent here. Together under Brandon Deckers vision and direction they have created an atmospheric that stretched decker. into a whole new realm of psychedelic desert gospel folk rock. I somehow suspect it challenged the band and all the players a lot more than it will the listeners who will be willingly baptized in the fully absorbing brilliance that is Patsy.

Photo by Matty Steinkamp

The album begins with a quarter minute intro called “Saigon” that merely adds a sense of spookiness to what you are about to experience. “O.D.B” is the first masterful stroke found on the album, an old timey guitar number, with a barroom piano line and a choir that feels like some revivalist minister is singing to his congregation in front of a bonfire. It is an amazingly catchy number while at the same time a harrowing trip lyrically. Some of the words sound like they are being spoken by a character right out of a Steinback book: ” I’ve been diggin’ in the dirt for days I’ve made A humble home for bones to lay”, while others are platitudes and aphorisms, but somehow they make it work: “Well the loosest of lips have been known to sink ships A snake with two faces is a back biting bitch So casually, tongues do run free but the squeaky wheel is gonna get the grease.” It’s a brilliant introduction to the album, that’s for sure. It’s sets the album for what is to follow, tales of the desperation of survival and the glory of transcendence. It tells through aphorisms of the conditions of existence. What follows is “5 Oscillations” which I assume is exactly that. It seems like a two minute link piece that is set up to bookend the introduction of the album that the short piece began it with. Oh, and it’s spookier than hell too.

“Esther Mofet” is clearly an anagram for “the rest of me”, as I think most are aware, which defines the song and the song itself is a perfect tune to follow the creepy interlude that preceded it.  It seems to be a song about living and loss, nay the necessity of loss in living, that one must progress through life, by having to make major mistakes. It’s a heavy song philosophically and musically it is atmospherically dense, the utter refrain says it all: ” But I don’t mind playin’ it off or losing, I don’t mind playin’ at all, But then sometimes time can be so amusing I don’t mind playing at all.” It is a song as much about that as it is impulses of both weakness and strength, from the physical to the ethical, whether it is a sexual trist at the start, to middle life mistakes, to taking people to task honestly. The dark starkness continues with “Spades”, and it is the companion piece to its predecessor as this one speaks of the “best of me” but, this seems to be darker. Clearly a tale of love, adultery, betrayal and possibly murder on the surface, the metaphor is far much more than that, which is the fascinating thing about this entire album in all of its lyrics. The entire album speaks of the flaws and perfections in human existence and these two songs typify that. Of note, Dan Tripp is featured with a brilliant guitar part on both of these companion pieces. If rock’n'roll existed in the Wild West this is exactly what it would sound like, with a touch of a sociopathic delivery from Deckers vocal delivery. More than anything it has a sense of leveling the playing field, for good or ill, with an oddly political vibe. These songs are about politcs, but not in the usual sense–it’s the politics of all us as we work our way through life, how we present ourselves, how others see us and what we do with that.

The title track has to be the most upbeat song invoking Lee Harvey Oswald that has ever been written and it may well be my favorite track on the album. While lyrically every line is about Oswald, the overall  song isn’t, it appears it’s about a life in desperation, about the “everyman” oppressed by any oligarchy no matter where it exists. It is about what desperation drives regular men and women to do in a universal set of dire circumstances. I don’t think the point here is to make Oswald a sympathetic character, but to think about what can drive a person to get to that point. I want to print every lyric here, but there is not the space, but it begins, “They would say I’m an angry man I was a lonesome man But, I’m just a hungry man Look at me – the bewildered one I am a soviet I am the powerless”, then later and more tellingly, “Never better over there, Never better over here, Never better anywhere, Made my decision and I’m through, It’s all over now for me, Guess it’s all over for you.” This could be as much about a relationship as it is about an assassination plot. Are you a patsy? Are we all? In what capacity? In what context? Simply brilliant songwriting.

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams

“O’Death” quickly follows. Here the tales that have been told are again reflected.  We are born and we die and in between that time we survive, aware of our own mortality, perhaps the only creatures on the planet with this awareness. During that time we are kings and queens and the patsy too, we live with horrible mistakes and glorious successes, but it is the urge to survive and transcend that keeps us going knowing that death will be our true last lover. It is a beautiful song, sounding like a East European folk song complete with choir, a singing saw courtesy of Johnny O’Halloran and the most unusual vocal deliver y by Decker. The first single to be release from Patsy over a year ago was “Cellars”–it too is a song of survival, transcendence, how we get by and how we get high. It is the musical quintessence of all that is decker.  One thing to mention is that this song is epic, I mean that it’s over nine minutes long in this respect. Now, I have to admit that it takes a hell of a lot of mastery to keep me interested in a song that exceeds four minutes, but decker. first goes about this by switching gears nearly exactly at the four minute mark and ups the velocity, then introduces a nearly gospel sounding choir/clapping section. This is followed by a deep study in David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd that finishes the song with a lovely feedback wash of raging guitars. Yeah, I couldn’t ask for more on this particular song–I was riveted the entire time. Bloody brilliant.

The all out gospel treatment of “Ol’ Dirty Revival” serves as the magnificent finale to this album, which if given enough listens is an absolute transcendental and compositional masterpiece. The album begins and ends with the same lyrics, but the treatments are certainly different.  While it seems to start with a man alone singing this song at the start of the album it ends with an entire choir of angels joining in. The idea, I suppose is that life is transformative, but I have to tell you after this song I always feel good, like someone who just came back in the old day from a baptism down by the river. Upon its end it strikes me that this is the most intellectually engaging album I have heard in ages and its subtle, you have to read between the lines, you have to listen to the words and feel the music. I have mapped out what I think here, but you may get something else out of it and I hope it is just as beautiful to you.

I suppose I have spoken more of the message I analyzed from how I felt about the lyrics in combination with the music, but not the music itself. To me decker.’s music smells like whiskey and sweat, feels like warm Sonoran winds, tastes like desert sand, is colored in sepias, yellows and tans, looks like an Old Testament Western Revival and sounds like they are haunted by the bleeding ghosts of Arizona past. They are the sound of the desert in no uncertain terms, this music is raised from the very soil upon which they tread, every bit as haunted as the land itself. decker. is authenticity in spades.

Be sure to catch decker. at their record release show for Patsy at Last Exit Live on Saturday, February 21st with The Through & Through Gospel Review, The Haymarket Squares and Field Tripp.