After six years, The Decembrists are back with new double album As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again. Released independently on Y.A.B.B. records, the LP contains music honoring each part of the band’s journey, a continuation of their discography rather than the skip of a repeating record.

Though many of the songs include symbols of death or loss, they’re not explicitly sad. It starts out peppy, though the narratives in the first quarter of the album are often about death. “Oh No!” is a dance with “the devil and the devil you know”, with Latin influences telling a story of destruction. Two tracks later, “Long White Veil” is an upbeat ghost story while “William Fitzwilliam” warns its subject not to “go out wandering, the ghosts hover ‘round you”. Then the album transitions into somber warnings (“The Black Maria”) to proggy reflections on modern life (“Born to the Morning”, “America Made Me”).

The Decemberists - Burial Ground

In physical form, As It Ever Was is a four-sided double album, each side bearing its own specific flavor. The changes in mood make a lot of sense in this format. “The model for this record, I think, is Hüsker Dü’s [1984 classic] Zen Arcade, which as far as I could tell [is] one of the only double records that really has a thematic element to the side breaks, and that’s something that we wanted to mess around with. That’s why each one is so distinct,” said frontman Colin Meloy in an interview with Variety. Digitally, however, the transition is less meaningful, sounding more like a Decembrists playlist without the intentional flip of the record.

The double album is bookended with songs in collaboration with some of the most influential musicians of the late 90s and 2000s. Kicking off the album is “Burial Ground”, one of those catchy songs about death featuring vocals by James Mercer of the Shins and a host of references to the Smiths’ “Cemetery Gates.” The final song on As It Ever Was is a 19-minute odyssey, an exploration of Joan of Arc’s story featuring Mike Mills of R.E.M. Starting out with that return to literary themes the Decembrists were originally known for – “In a book I found/Joan in the garden” – the song transitions from rock ballad to futurism to bells and organ back into electric guitar, ending on a button with the album’s title. It’s… a lot. Listening to “Joan in the Garden” doesn’t feel like an epic or a compilation of all things Decembrists. It’s a little more like a neglected tape recording.

The Decemberists - Joan In The Garden

Not that the Decembrists should ever confine themselves to one sound. After six albums, they’ve done prog rock, folk, even synthpop, and proved that they can do it well. “The record, in some ways, is a return to earlier stuff, but it’s a summation of everything that we’ve done so far, and not in any intentional way,” Meloy said. “Once we stepped away and looked at it, it did feel like there was a little bit of something from every corner of our catalog”.

As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is out now. Revisit the band’s NON-COMM set here, and their Fillmore Philly show here.

The Decemberists - Long White Veil (Live from Rumpus at Rev Hall in Portland)
The Decemberists - Oh No! (Live from Hallowed Halls)