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

The Decemberists’  Colin Meloy has already claimed As It Ever Was, So I Will Be Again is the band’s best album in its 20+ year career, so who are we to argue?

In these days of fake news and false truths in might pay to do a little research ourselves rather than take Colin’s word for it.

The DecemberistsSo few facts, then…this is the band’s 9th studio album and first since 2018’s I’ll Be Your Girl. It’s the band’s lengthiest album, thanks mostly to track 13 which is a whopping 19 minutes long, spreading it over two discs in its vinyl configuration.

Here are some more facts…the band has retained the same line-up over the course of its 24 year career and they have returned to working with their long-time collaborator/producer Tucker Martine and a brief dalliance with John Congleton on their previous record.

Of course we live in a time when facts don’t always ring true, so let’s give this bad boy a closer listen.

Burial Ground kicks things off with a jingle and a jangle…the jingle coming from the tambourine, the jangle from the guitar. The vibe is somewhere between late-period Byrds and American Beauty-era Grateful Dead with a dash of Big Star for good measure. Meloy’s voice is strong…helped along by The Shins’ James Mercer…and the music is immediately accessible…in other words catchy as hell…and I do love the sound of that trumpet.

Oh No! follows with a Latin/TexMex lilt and more horns bringing the track to life and putting a smile on my face.

Meloy may be on to something.

From what I’ve read, the album had a troubled birth. After years away from the band…because of the usual pandemic-related reasons…they finally reconvened in at Martine’s studio in their home town of Portland, Oregon and proceeded to get down to business only to abandon everything they recorded.

Not a good re-boot.

But six months later, they got back together and the magic happened. The only difference being that this time Martine was on side to help…he had been away for the first sessions.

And from hearing the production throughout these 13 tracks, I’d have to give him the MVP award. The use of those horns is perfect…the flute on The Reapers is wonderful…and the measured use of pedal steel and accordion is just what the doctor ordered.

Not to take anything away from the band.

Colin Meloy’s songwriting has never been sharper or more melodic…keyboard player Jenny Conlee adds some gorgeous harmonies…and Nate Query’s bass is solid as a rock.

A couple of highlights are William Fitzwilliam, sounding for all the world like an olde English folk ballad and The Black Maria with close harmonies and a droning French horn.

Then there is Joan In The Garden, the 19 minute track that closes out the set.

The Joan in question is Joan Of Arc and here is what Colin has said about the song:

“I got into a Joan of Arc kick after reading Lydia Yuknavitch’s beautifully batshit novel ‘The Book of Joan.’ I wanted to make my own version of Joan — but the song that came was as much about the creative process as it was about the actual woman, about angelic visitation and creative visitation and the hallucinogenic quality of both.”

That’s cool, but doesn’t really prepare the listener for what’s coming which is a R.E.M.-ish jangly intro (that’s Mike Mills on BVs) that wanders into all sorts of uncharted aural territory over its 19+ minutes. There is some Pink Floyd, Ummagumma-style weirdness at about the 14 minute mark and then all hell breaks loose a few minutes later…bombastic guitar riffs, proggy keyboard noodling and, its sounds like a choir singing in there somewhere.

It finally wraps up with a ‘hosanna, yeah!’ and if you’re still with them at this point, then good on ya.

Joan In The Garden is a wild ride, but the main body of As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is pretty darn good.

You know, that Colin Meloy may be right after all.

Marty Duda

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is released Friday, June 14th. Click here to pre-order the album.