As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again

The Decemberists’ first album in six years feels like a homecoming. After the somber and reflective What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World in 2015 and the synth-laden protest songs of 2018’s I’ll Be Your Girl, their ninth LP, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again—their first-ever double album—is a freewheeling and deeply pleasurable odyssey through the Portland folk-rockers’ estimable history. No stone in the band’s past is left unturned here: There are echoes of the wistfulness that drew so many listeners in circa 2002’s instant classic Castaways and Cutouts, as well as the flamboyant instrumentation and arched-eyebrow storytelling that marked 2005’s star-making Picaresque. Even As It Ever Was’ stormy and surprisingly bruising closer, the nearly 20-minute “Joan in the Garden,” instantly recalls the band’s 2009 proggy opus The Hazards of Love in its “Aqualung”-esque stomp, complete with meaty guitar riffs. At first glance, Colin Meloy and co. are doing a lot across the ample framework of As It Ever Was—but their successfully executed sense of ambition is perfectly complemented by the sweet musical simplicity of these 13 songs, some of Meloy’s most straightforwardly gorgeous music put to tape. Accompanied by The Shins’ James Mercer and R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, the easy jangle of “Burial Ground” is practically The Decemberists’ own take on The Byrds’ classic “Turn! Turn! Turn!” while “America Made Me” leavens Meloy’s acerbic sociopolitical observations with a horn-laden bar-band boisterousness. “Don’t want stunning wordplay/All I want is you,” Meloy nakedly intones on “All I Want Is You,” perhaps a cheeky self-referential moment towards his own penchant for lyrical verbosity. But As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again reaffirms that The Decemberists are at their strongest when embracing their most long-held creative tendencies.

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