A dusty wind blows through the yard and tears the pages out of your notebook. You run around the neighborhood to catch them, and as you do, you find yourself in the middle of a circle of people who are about to square off in some kind of battle. Or perhaps it's a ceremony. They are dressed in denim and handkerchiefs, and they are adorned with symbols from all over. Your poetic wanderings have led you into the middle of something strange and possibly dangerous.
Sedona, AZ based songwriter Brandon Decker (aka decker.) presents his 8th studio album, Ouroboros, a fusion of poetry and chaos. There is a blistering energy running through it all, like a transformer has been left on in the basement and no one can figure out how to shut it off.
Ouroboros is a concept album relating to life, death and transcendence. Decker, who Glide Magazine calls, "one of the country's most criminally underrated songwriters," has never written an album that wasn't a whole thematic unit. This latest offering arose out of the grief and bewilderment of watching his father die from cancer while Brandon was left to deal with the very real remnants of familial trauma. At the same crossroads came a painful end to a relationship with a woman he had planned to marry.
And so, to transcend, to build a community, to create ceremony: a pathway to the other side through music.
To the hallowed grounds of EastWest Studios in Los Angeles, a studio big enough to sustain Decker's vision of recording a robust album, live with no overdubs, in a mere two days. While others tried to convince him to pare down and record piece-by-piece, Decker insisted everyone would record only through directly connecting with each other and with the music; in the same moment, in the same space. Decker brought his ensemble of 16 musicians, complete with horns, strings and choir to the studio and room where everyone from Frank Sinatra to Kendrick Lamar have made legendary records. Laughing, crying, breathing it all in together, there was no time to lie on couches and check phones.
That vibrancy of the moment bleeds through every song on the record. The brass feels like they were blown into town by a hurricane nursing one bottle of rum between them. The strings play like they believe they can still get off the sinking ship. Decker's voice sounds like someone who has had to rescue many pages of poetry from the clutches of bullies.
For a band known for music dubbed "soulful desert psychedelia," the song "Supernovae" somewhat surprisingly pushes through the choppy waters of this storm at sea; the horn section trying to get its footing while Decker alternately sings, "I'm alright, I'm alright, I'm alright / I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive." The track feels thrillingly unstable, what rock and roll should be. The Strokes get lost in the desert in the driving "Mojave," as Decker emotes, "I hope a rattlesnake don't get bit by you." No matter how furtive and searching a decker. song gets, there is always a burst of brightness and escape, bringing the sky close to the desert floor. Like a "Long Long Long" following a "Helter Skelter," the song "Sea Change" dries out our storm-soaked clothes with a gentle, circular melody. A torrent of words comes instead of electric guitars and horns as Decker sings, "Do you remember twilight?" A string section and a chorus of singers provide a gorgeous backdrop for the surprising turn of gentleness from this gate-crashing band. "Spirit is your strength/ not a myth, not a weakness," Decker sings on "Limbs," the center point of the album. All of us living through this era have been asked to forgo the urges of the spirit in favor of technology and money and now we realize it might be up to us to create our own ceremonies and rituals. On "Mourning Dove," he sings, "My sweet dove, my sweet lamb/ Held it so tight it slipped right through our hands." That paradox drives the music on this record, trying to grasp the sweet things with scarred hands.
After two days of recording, even before the album was mixed, Brandon felt the totality of grief rise up to finally be witnessed and celebrated, all to be let go into the air. A true grief ceremony, but one captured on tape. "I lived through this, I loved through this, I transformed, and now it is done," he said.
- Vinyl LP
- Nebula (Prelude)
- Eos (Endless Light)
- Tidal (Like a Birth)
- Sea Change
- Mourning Dove
- My Gift
- Ouroboros (Sans Fin)