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Judy G.

CD of The Week

Week of 6/17/24

    The Decemberists - As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again (YABB / Thirty Tigers)

    With their breakthrough albums, 2005’s Picaresque and 2006’s The Crane Wife, The Decemberists became known (and mocked in some quarters) for possessing one of the most distinctive styles and aesthetics in indie music. The band’s musical blend of baroque folk and jangly pop-rock was paired with incredibly esoteric songwriting courtesy of frontman Colin Meloy, all while the band dressed in vintage formalwear. In short, the Decemberists were unfairly tagged as music for humanities graduate students, when in reality, they really were for nerds of all stripes who appreciate unconventional hooks. In the time since, the band has defied expectations with every record, as they’ve experimented with rootsier textures (2011’s The King is Dead) and synths (2018’s I’ll Be Your Girl) to varying levels of commercial and artistic success. On their first album in six years, and their first on their own label, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again, Meloy and company have returned home, bringing back the dark humor, clever wordplay, and progressive tendencies of their most renowned work to rewarding ends.

    The album starts off on a high note with the two main singles, the stripped-down, macabre “Burial Ground,” and the playful, salsa-infused “Oh No!” The latter contains classic Decemberists rhymes such as “and it’s oh no!/dash him in one final blow/stick to the rackets, the heavy’s a hack/and he’s singing pianissimo,” but the looseness of the rhythm and the earworm-y groove prove to be irresistible fun, rather than homework. Other highlights include “The Reapers” which possesses a winding melody and atmospheric touches of flute and the sinister, cautionary strum of “Don’t Go to the Woods.”

    While every track boasts compelling touches, the album is rather frontloaded as tracks like “American Made Me” revisit simplistic political sentiments that marred the Trump-era work of the band and “All I Want Is You” is more of a sketch than a complete song. The elephant in the room is the 19-minute closer, “Joan in the Garden” which boasts a rousing finish, but perhaps not all six minutes of ambient noise in the middle of the song were absolutely necessary.

    All in all, As It Ever Was... is the best Decemberists album in over a decade and shows that there is plenty of new life to be drawn from their original, signature sound. Most of the record plays to their strengths as a hyper-literate and adventurous ensemble while there are enough hooky melodies to maintain interest over all four sides of this double album. Old fans will be very pleased and new listeners should be sufficiently entranced to check out the rest of their worthwhile discography.

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    Review by Sol

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