Review | The Decemberists: As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again

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  • The Decemberists released their ninth studio album, “As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again” on June 14 2024
  • The single “Burial Ground” has already been a popular track on radio and among newer fans
  • But, as Benjamin Jackson asks in his review, could this be the most accessible album from Colin Meloy to draft in a new legion of fans?

It was my wife who first put me onto The Decemberists. Mind you, it was also my wife who put me onto Mountain Goats - possibly why we moved to Leeds.

But aside from seeing the name and hearing the occasional snippet in passing on television, it was during the pandemic while we were all told to stay in our homes that I started to listen to them - by proxy initially.

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My wife became obsessed with “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” during the social media craze at the time of sea shanties (remember that?) I thought it was one of the better examples that appeared on TikTok. Alas, the better half introduced me to a lot more from the band, not just everything from “Picaresque.”

Fans of the band, who are set to perform at BST Hyde Park later this year, will no doubt already be familiar with some of the early singles off “As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again,” with the incredibly catchy “Burial Ground” having done the rounds. 

The jaunty, upbeat, almost jangle-pop sound from the track almost distracts from the lyrics being sung, in an almost sugary-sweet fashion by frontman Colin Meloy. But concentrate on the lyrics themselves and you realize this isn’t a whimsical little ballad - it’s a song where the titular character wants to be dead, explained with the line “Wherever they have gone, I long to go/Somewhere out beyond these maladies in my head.

The Decemberists have released their ninth studio album, "As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again," with reviewer Benjamin Jackson believing it could be the most accessible work for newer fans to discover Colin Meloy (far right) and company (Credit: The Decemberists)The Decemberists have released their ninth studio album, "As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again," with reviewer Benjamin Jackson believing it could be the most accessible work for newer fans to discover Colin Meloy (far right) and company (Credit: The Decemberists)
The Decemberists have released their ninth studio album, "As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again," with reviewer Benjamin Jackson believing it could be the most accessible work for newer fans to discover Colin Meloy (far right) and company (Credit: The Decemberists) | The Decemberists

You suddenly realise that the group’s musical strength comes from the juxtaposition several times between the harmonious melodies the music provides, with a dirth of bleak, matter-of-fact, sombre lyrics. That’s why, I’ve been told, The Decemberists have become such an endearing act.

With “As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again,” it almost feels like Meloy has taken cues from an era of US radio in the late 70s to early 80s; many of the songs have touchstone moments throughout that, as lazily as some music purists would feel it is, are helpful for those that perhaps have heard some tracks on BBC 6 Music.

At times, there is a strong element of “radio-friendly” psychedelia reminiscent of when older acts drew influence from the 60s psychedelic movement, while at other times there is a strong element of arena rock at the time - heaven forbid I refer to Fleetwood Mac or Creedence Clearwater Revival

But through some of the riffs throughout the album and the incorporation of flutes and synths, it does feel as if Colin Meloy went out to write an album that was intentionally rooted in a time and place in music. 

If The Decemberists' last album, “I’ll Be Your Girl,” at times drew influence from 80s coldwave and synthpop, how is it too far of a stretch that Meloy thought “Hall and Oates - I wonder how we can take something that sounds like a soft rock song but subjugate it with lyrics to catch our listeners off guard again?”

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This sounds like, for many fans of The Decemberists, I’m teaching you how to suck eggs and explaining the obvious. But here’s the thing: this could be one of the most accessible albums by The Decemberists and for the curious perhaps the best entry-level into the band’s pantheon of previous works. 

It hopefully also surpasses the recent success of the group; the band have slowly but surely been inching up the UK album charts with each successive release, with 2018’s “I’ll Be Your Girl” peaking at number eight on the UK album chart upon its release. 

Each previous release, dating back to 2006’s “The Crane Wife” which debuted at 127 on the UK album chart, has progressively moved up and up with each new album. We know fans are going to head out and pick up the album or stream/download it through the raft of digital retailers available.

But with “As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again,” it could be those newer fans enchanted by their Brechtian/Grand Guignol approach to song-making (moribund lyrical themes yet still colourful and bright at times sonically) that helps push the album finally into the top five.

It’s a great album, but more importantly, it could act as an entry for newer audiences to embrace and appreciate The Decemberists and Colin Meloy as an incredibly enchanting, American-esque group perfect for the uncertain summer ahead. 

Where can I stream or buy “As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again” by The Decemberists?

The Decemberists' new album is available to stream or download through all leading digital retailers, including Spotify and Apple Music

For those after a tangible product though, the album is also available on compact disc and 12” vinyl through HMV in the United Kingdom.

Have you listened to The Decemberists’ new album yet, or have you been a long-time fan of the group? Do you agree with some of the opinions in this review? Let us know by leaving a comment down below or email our reporter at [email protected]

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