Dream pop trio Postcards' debut album, I‘ll be here in the morning captivated audiences when it came out in
2018. It conveyed a sense of escapism, of searching for that fleeting moment, a chance to pause for thought.
Less than four years later, a band shaken to the core by events in their home country, encounters a world in a
pandemic state of emergency. On their new album, After the Fire, Before the End, Julia Sabra (vocalist, lyricist,
keys, guitar), Marwan Tohme (guitar, bass) and Pascal Semerdjian (drums) don’t even try to induce a peaceful
state of mind. Instead, the album embraces the omnipresence of the crisis and talks openly about the
suffering, without indulging in self-pity.
What do emotions like longing and love, melancholy and existential fear, feel like, when they are not
experienced in the relative safety of a functioning country? The catastrophic explosion that shook the port of
Beirut in August 2020 saw Lebanon momentarily make headlines around the world. But the absurdity of life in
the country is not new.
The dreamily fading track “Summer” seems to want to hold on to the memory of an idle summer day made
particularly unforgettable by its uneventfulness. But cracks appear in the idyllic scene when Sabra almost
casually mentions soldiers watching them sunbathing on the roof. The introspective, bittersweet lyrics are
often expanded with an added social or political layer. Uncertainty and anxiety about the future are the
defining undertones of this record. Maybe that is why After the Fire, Before the End has the potential to hit a
nerve in Europe, as the continent is already reeling from the pandemic.
With its nervous bassline and explosive guitars, “Mother Tongue” captures a lot of the atmosphere that was
felt in Beirut in those days. The song turns into a reckoning with their hometown, which has long since been
devoid of any sense of safety and comfort. “Home is so Sad” is another case in point, lamenting the wounds
on one’s own body and mourning the loss of all security. Musically, the scarred melancholy of the ballad is
contrasted by a manic drum kit and a distorted guitar, which comes in towards the end of the track as if to
reinforce the percussive struggle against the pain. “Red” is a declaration of love, but with lyrics such as “Let’s
get married pack up and leave / there’s a fire in the sky / I try to close my eyes / I’m tired” it is steeped in
exhaustion rather than romance. Singer, Julia Sabra, always manages the delicate balancing act between
ethereal beauty and emotional weariness, e.g. in “Sea Change”, a song that clings to a glimmer of hope for
normality, only to end in resignation. With the lyrics “Grief to grow old with / grief as an end / grief as a
neighbor / grief as a friend”, “January”, even dares to tap into complete and utter sadness. Sabra is one of the
recognisable voices of the new dream pop generation. She seems to know all the tricks of the trade,
effortlessly combining anxiety and thoughtfulness in her singing style. In her hands, the swan song, “If I Die”,
becomes a veritable anthem, whose essence “There is nothing left under the sun / houses stand like tombs /
bodies back in wombs / The is nothing left but sun / Bury me in light” exudes a liberating sense of doom.
For Postcards, we can only hope that, at some point, developments in Lebanon will give cause for renewed
optimism. Until then, however, we will enjoy After the Fire, Before the End for what it is: a musical
embodiment of the emotions felt under a truly existential burden. The hauntingly beautiful sounds, rapturous
in places and often surging in true shoegaze style, can help cope with and overcome life’s challenges. No
doubt, in a world that is in a state of confusion, self-conscious lamentation is probably the best strategy to
stop one from losing one’s mind.