The Decemberists' As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is one of the year's best albums

The Decemberists have released nine studio albums since they hit the scene more than two decades ago. Yet with the release of their new record As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again, they are showing no signs of going stale.

The Decemberists' new record As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again, is a triumphant return to form after the band's disappointing 2018 effort I'll Be Your Girl.
The Decemberists' new record As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again, is a triumphant return to form after the band's disappointing 2018 effort I'll Be Your Girl.  © imago/PA Images

When The Decemberists released I'll Be Your Girl back in 2018, Colin Meloy and the gang presented us with a disjointed record, complete with only a few diamonds in the rough.

While tracks like Rusalka, Rusalka, Sucker's Prayer, and Severed experimented with a sound and style the band hadn't previously been known for, you couldn't help but feel that the band was feeling a bit out of breath after decades of near-constant touring and writing.

There was one glimmering shining light, though. For years, The Decemberists have had a tradition of releasing short EPs to follow up their records, and in the case of Traveling On, the band didn't disappoint.

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Still, a fan shouldn't have to make a composite playlist of the two projects to get a coherent listening experience, and it's always a bad sign when "meh" becomes an album's most accurate descriptor.

More than half a decade after the shambles of I'll Be Your Girl, Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen are back with As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again, a triumphant and energized record that quells any fears that The Decemberists may have left their best years behind them.

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is a hopeful, jubilant, whimsical, and poignant record that showcases The Decemberists at their absolute best. It is not only their best album in years but quite possibly the year's best record so far.

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is The Decemberists at their creative best

Colin Meloy and the gang haven't felt this fresh since 2009's Hazards of Love.
Colin Meloy and the gang haven't felt this fresh since 2009's Hazards of Love.  © IMAGO/POP-EYE

From the get-go, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again feels like a fun and joyful affair. Centered around a bright and full guitar riff, reminiscent of R.E.M., Burial Ground is a great opener that sets the tone for the rest of the album and is contrasted immediately with the South American-inspired Oh No, a raucous track that can't help but draw comparisons with The Infanta from 2005's Picaresque.

Indeed, a lot of The Decemberists' new record is reminiscent of the band's early years, centered around unique storytelling, acoustic guitar, and quirky but poetic lyrics. Since The Crane Wife, the band has experimented with a variety of genres, and you can see the influence of that experimentation in the new record, but there was something uniquely fun about those early albums, and this is a suitable tribute.

The Reaper sees the timbre pulled back from the jaunty dance beats of Oh No and features some of the album's most beautiful passages: "Over the next valley, where the land is all wild, and the hillside's all berries and thorn weed for miles."

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It continues strong from here, with the gorgeous and endlessly listenable Long White Veil and then a string of quiet and moody tracks that see Meloy stripped back and at his vocal best. The Black Maria is a particular triumph, and you can't help but come back for subsequent listens.

Then there is, of course, America Made Me, a clear follow-up to Picaresque's 16 Military Wives both in tone and in content. It's a biting but fun ballad that fits into the bitterness of 2024 just as 16 Military Wives fit perfectly amid America's involvement in Iraq under George W. Bush.

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again never stops, with a closing series of great tracks that culminates in the mighty 19-minute magnum opus Joan in the Garden, which just seems to get better and better on every listen. It's a commitment, but when listened to properly, provides the perfect ending to this wonderful album.

Colin Meloy and The Decemberists fail to miss in latest effort

The Decemberists' As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is available in all expected locations as of June 14, 2024.
The Decemberists' As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is available in all expected locations as of June 14, 2024.  © IMAGO / PA Images

Throughout, the band all shine in their own way. The album is full of gorgeous guitar riffs and passages and some fantastic use of brass bands, and Meloy shines throughout with his whimsical and warm vocal style.

No moment is wasted, with every song shining in its own right, an achievement that's impressive in an album that lasts for longer than an hour when listened to in full. There are highlights, for sure, but nothing on here that feels like a waste of time or slows down the pace too much.

After the disappointment of I'll Be Your Girl, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is exactly what the band needed.

It's a breath of fresh air that leans on exactly what makes The Decemberists such a great band, and it's a record we'll all be coming back to for decades to come.

The Decemberists' As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is available in all expected locations as of June 14, 2024.

Cover photo: imago/PA Images

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