The Decemberists
As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again


4.0
excellent

Review

by Sunnyvale STAFF
June 11th, 2024 | 74 replies


Release Date: 06/14/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: As it ever was (more or less)

This album’s title is almost too on-the-nose - it’s not only a classic Decemberist-y phrase, poetically timeless, but also explicitly spells out the record’s aspiration to be that oldest cliche in the book for veteran bands - the “return to form”.

That return to form is necessary, given As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again not only marks the group’s first effort in six years, but also serves as the follow-up to the notably disappointing I’ll Be Your Girl. In the abstract, I’ll Be Your Girl was a passable record with a few genuine gems - “Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes” aptly displays The Decemberists’ more grandiose side, while the closing title track dips into their old well of curtain call sentimentality - but, when set against the standard of excellence which long defined the iconic band’s previous output, it fell quite short, bogged down by the ambivalent quality of a large swathe of the tracklist, and a few true stinkers (“We All Die Young”, cough, cough). Given that mediocre offering was the last appearance from these Portland, Oregon dignitaries, it’s fair enough that a demanding fanbase would now request “proof of life”, any kind of demonstration that their beloved standard-bearers still have “it”.

Turns out that The Decemberists” do indeed still have “it” in their arsenal, and they seem to want to trumpet that news through the furthest reaches of hill and dale - releasing early (among other singles) both the opening and closing track, which are not only perhaps the best tracks of their latest album, but also each display one of the group’s most clear-cut strengths in stark relief. The album’s first track, “Burial Ground”, is an absolute classic in a familiar way for the band, simultaneously morbid and very, very, very catchy - a reminder that, besides maybe The Shins, The Decemberists have long been the purveyors of the greatest hooks in indie-dom. Meanwhile, the album’s last track, “Joan in the Garden” see The Decemberists unfurl their full-fledged return to more ambitious compositions - a sweeping, trippy, nearly twenty-minute sprawl - its drone/ambient mid-segment might go on a bit too long, but the song reaches absolutely stratospheric heights in multiple places and can only be assessed as a dramatic success.

In the eleven songs between those memorable bookends, The Decemberists have covered a fair amount of ground, but slow to mid-tempo folk rock predominates. Broadly speaking, the material should satisfy fans of both the group’s early baroque prog-folk era and their later iteration of campfire singalong Americana - even just in the record’s first half, there’s plenty of macabre storytelling fare, like the rollicking (but bloodthirsty) “Oh No” or the sinister “The Black Maria” to balance out more hook-centered rustic tunes like the countrified ghost ballad “Long White Veil” and the immensely beautiful “William Fitzwilliam”. The second half might suffer a bit in comparison, with the inclusion of some weaker material, like the jaunty, but not particularly memorable, “Born to the Morning” or the overlong “America Made Me”. However, that stretch has some gems as well - “All I Want is You” might feel trite at first, but reveals itself on repeat listens to be a very pretty little tune, while the penultimate “Never Satisfied” is weepy and grand, suggesting it would’ve been a perfect closer if the band hadn’t decided to “go big” and end the record with the longest song they’ve ever attempted.

In short, yeah, The Decemberists are “back”, making enthralling music with enough catchiness, complexity, and atmosphere to satisfy the whole generation of listeners who have such high expectations for them. In the scope of their whole discography, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is probably a slightly weaker entry, given its runtime feels slightly overlong (indeed, this is their longest record, a distinction it doesn’t quite justify), and the fact that there’s a faint whiff of trying too hard to please everyone about these proceedings. The latter matter is hard to fault too much - The Decemberists are firmly in that stage of their career where virtually any sonic adjustment will feel like refracted light off one of their earlier accomplishments, and thus the band are doing their best to navigate within the confines that they’ve previously entrapped themselves in. As such, not much of the sonic territory meandered upon here is particularly new for the band, but they manage to provide highly satisfying renditions of many of the styles they’ve explored over the years. As such, this latest album feels like a rather comfortable, but nonetheless impressive, addition to the canon - some new classic tunes, a bunch of great tracks, and only a couple weaker inclusions. All in all, I don’t ask for more. These aging hipsters might now have sons and daughters of their own at this point, and that old light sure isn’t ambling anymore, but the tattered banner of the youth and beauty brigade still waves proudly when they play. Nothing will stand in their way.



Recent reviews by this author
Cassandra Jenkins My Light, My DestroyerHail Spirit Noir Fossil Gardens
Aran Maahan LaskettuDomestic Terminal Sanctuary
Joana Serrat Big WaveVillagers That Golden Time
user ratings (37)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
June 11th 2024


6027 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album is out this Friday, Jun 14th.



Some absolutely amazing songs, with a bunch of other tunes which grew on me quite a bit with repeated listens. All in all, pretty satisfying comeback after a disappointing last album.

ThyCrossAwaits
June 11th 2024


4018 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yay : )

Odal
Staff Reviewer
June 11th 2024


2307 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Lovely review, I'm glad to hear that the pre-release songs weren't a fluke. I enjoyed I'll Be Your Girl a bit, but it definitely has faded as they days have gone by. Stoked that they are at least attempting their roots again. Can't wait to listen

Sowing
Moderator
June 11th 2024


44136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm very excited for this. I love both their dramatic phase as well as their country/folk-ish phase, but am interested in a return to the former after several albums of the latter. Excellent review as usual.

Feather
June 12th 2024


10291 Comments


Saw these guys live a couple weeks back and they closed the show with Joan in the Garden, which was incredible

Hawks
June 12th 2024


90585 Comments


Can't wait to hear this.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
June 12th 2024


6027 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks folks!



Taken as a whole, I'd say this album is closer to their later-era stuff in style than their earlier work, but there's definitely bits and pieces which will appeal to fans of either. And the overall quality level feels much more substantial than I'll Be Your Girl.

WatchItExplode
June 12th 2024


10475 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Can already tell this will be the soundtrack to my time around the campfire this summer

PostmanPat
June 12th 2024


216 Comments


Hawks is also a Decemberists fan? This muhfugga is my soulmate, wtf.

Veldin
June 13th 2024


5322 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Really looking forward to this! Great review, mate. Haven’t been huge on them since Hazards of Love, but I always check out their stuff. I have a good feeling about this one after hearing the singles

theBoneyKing
June 13th 2024


24563 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Stoked to hear this

Christbait
June 13th 2024


495 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

So would you say it's more The King is Dead rather than Hazards... or Crane Wife? I mean, they'll never return to Your Majesty or Picaresque but if this new one is in-line with TKID than I'm fucking stoked. I've listened to them for close to 20 years now but was getting really bummed after the last 2 albums.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
June 13th 2024


6027 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think overall the bulk of this album is closest to King Is Dead and Terrible/Beautiful World era, but there's some Hazards/Crane Wife touches too. Album is a bit overstuffed and it seems like they wanted "something for everyone", but the quality level is generally quite high in my book.

Odal
Staff Reviewer
June 13th 2024


2307 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

That honestly sounds good to me at this point in their career. I'd rather them try to do too much with a few winners than aim low and still not ever quite hit the mark.



I've never hated anything they've done but I'll Be Your Girl and What a Terrible World definitely left me wanting a bit

Christbait
June 13th 2024


495 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks, Sunny. I struggle to think of any reasonable fan who would outright prefer their later sound to their "classic" sound, but I also get that a musician's tastes change and evolve and that they may get bored if they don't change it up.



Odal
Staff Reviewer
June 13th 2024


2307 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Yeah, I'd be more on board with their change in sound if it didn't just outright sound like an obligation to them. The King Is Dead is honestly a pretty neutered version of their early sound, but it still works because they still sound vibrant. They just wanted to see what it would be like to be less obtuse and weird.



I'll Be Your Girl felt (mostly) like them recognizing they needed to put something out to stay relevant, and they got a decent hit out of it in "Severed"

Christbait
June 13th 2024


495 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'll be honest, I don't know why I'll Be Your Girl even exists. As a fan of the band, the worst thing about it would have been trying to see them live during that album cycle. Half the setlist being a bunch of D-sides would have made me barf.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
June 13th 2024


6027 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think I'm a weird case, but The King Is Dead is actually my favorite of their records. It's a classic in my book, all killer no filler and I think they really do that accessible and earnest Americana perfectly on that album. Subsequent efforts haven't been able to capture the same magic, at least all the way through.



I really like all their albums (except I'll Be Your Girl) a lot though, each manages to capture a different vibe.

Feather
June 13th 2024


10291 Comments


Severed live was shockingly good. The full album was so stinky.

I really liked Terrible World though

Christbait
June 13th 2024


495 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

TKID was fantastic. January Hymn and June Hymn are near the top for me in terms of their best songs. On the Bus Mall and California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade being my #1s



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2023 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy