I haven’t spoken much about it in this column, but 2021 has kind of been the year of post-rock for me, at least behind the scenes. Spoiler alert, no less than three of my favorite non-metal albums this year have been post-rock albums and I see no signs of slowing that pace down for the second half of the year. I’ve always had a love for the swirling, haunting and highly textural genre, and one of the relatively unrecognized titans of the scene has been postcards from new zealand, who, with their newest full-length, we watched them devour, vol. 3: city islands, have been cranking out a torrent of great releases to further the genre.
postcards from new zealand (yes, that’s intentionally all lowercase) are the faceless, nameless collective that I am only relatively sure hail from the same shores as the aforementioned postcards. The details of the group are intentionally well-hidden, but the band has a little bit to say about themselves and their mission. “generally speaking, we celebrate the end of things: the end of life, the end of times, the end of fear, the end of love and, by celebrating immortals, we even celebrate the end of death. everything comes to an end and we can’t but feel very small before this fact, so we find ways to come to terms with it (and we party like it’s 1999). we look dumb but, deep inside, we’re even dumber.” There’s quite a lot to unpack there, but generally speaking, city islands follows the theme of cinematic, epic soundscapes produced through diverse and unpredictable instrumentation and songwriting that highlights the buildup while still managing to skirt the expected. On city islands, pfnz (as they like to be called) focus more strongly on electronic instrumentation, building shifting, gritty soundscapes that are slightly blurry around the edges and more abrasive than their contemporaries, or even their previous works. And what a catalogue of works it is. city islands marks the band’s 22nd full length since forming in 2008. Most bands only ever dream of that kind of creative output, but pfnz make it seem effortless.
While electronic elements do play a much larger role in the overall textural composition of city islands, to my ear the instrument that stands out the most is actually the drums. On tracks like “snow and sand” and “torturous winding,” the pounding drums and shifting rhythms help cement an almost industrial sound when coupled with the angular, jarring electronics that wash and sweep the background. The percussion really does drive the songs forward, because the band uses traditional guitars in a more subdued way. Each song consists of a minimal number of riffs and melodies, usually only a handful even on a 12-13 minute track. Instead, a main theme undergoes subtle variations and is transplanted over serpentine rhythms and fluid electronic backgrounds. The end result is something that is incredibly cinematic and grand in scope, a creation that tells a powerful story without using any words. You feel the war-like energy in “it just kept coming,” you feel the sorrow and loss in “snow and sand,” you feel the burgeoning of hope in “ocean avenue.” You feel it all, intensely, which showcases just how talented of songwriters these folks are. Everything comes together in a very satisfying way that leaves you wanting to know what happens next.
Was it intentional that I picked a decidedly un-American album to run on our Independence Day? No, it wasn’t (life has been very busy for us and I kinda forgot what day today was), but it is amusingly ironic seeing as I haven’t been in a very patriotic mood for a good long while. Please, do enjoy the fireworks today, but also make sure that you take some time to listen to the voices of POC, indigenous peoples and all those who have been steamrolled for decades in the name of American exceptionalism and think critically about what our government has been doing to and for those who need help, both at home and abroad. And then go listen to city islands, because it’s really damn good.