BEIRUT — “The earth spoke / with the first stroke of the spade / deeper, deeper / ‘til it has nothing left to say.”
So begins Lebanese group-turned-solo project Interbellum’s newest album, released this month. As archives, as memories, as ghosts, as archeological records — the past appears again and again in shapeshifting form throughout the record, titled Our House is Very Beautiful at Night.
Musically, it’s hard to pin down, incorporating elements of folk, rock, noise and experimental music in an assemblage that is diffuse but united by a melancholic, reflective sensibility.
This is the third album from Interbellum — and the first since 2018’s Dead Pets, Old Griefs. It’s far more of a solo record than the previous two, with virtually all instruments played by musician Karl Mattar, who also recorded and produced the album. Pascal Semerdjian, from Postcards, also contributed drums. Mattar previously performed as Charlie Rayne, with more of a folk sound.
As a solo endeavor, Our House is looser and more exploratory than his previous Interbellum records.
“When I first formed [Interbellum], it was kind of a standard rock group with four members, so we naturally gravitated towards this rock sound,” Mattar tells L’Orient Today by phone from Berlin, where he has lived since 2018. “I was attracted to the idea of doing things live. And so we recorded everything on cassette — live. And because of the concept, it didn't really occur to me to layer any additional stuff.”
“I think one of the reasons this new one is so freewheeling is because I did it by myself… I let myself explore a lot more than I usually do. And I had a lot of time too because, you know, when you work in a studio, you get things done within a few weeks. But recording at home, whenever you feel like it, really gives you time to try anything.”
Mattar wrote and recorded much of the album under COVID-19 lockdown in Berlin. “I think it sounds like it's a bit messy. It's very homespun and raw,” Mattar says. “And I was doing things that aren't a very orthodox way of recording or producing or arranging. And I leaned into that because I knew that it would also fit in super well with the themes that I was trying to explore.”
The album opens with energetic, driving guitars and drums that lead to a broad vista of plucked guitars before eventually crashing into an insistent, discordant push with Mattar’s voice repeating monosyllabically overhead.
The beautifully ethereal “Enemies” introduces some of the other major themes of the album. Late nights spent half remembering personal and generational traumas, “ghosts in the hall,” and blankets of white — fog, snow, mist, static hiss — laying heavily over everything until the repressed, the unnameable things, “burst like stars upon my memory.” Or, as in “Ancestral Lines,” the flick of a light switch that makes all the “awful” shapes clear.
Mattar says these themes are both personal and universal, including but not limited to Lebanese society. They also predate the most recent, fresh societal traumas in Lebanon like the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion and the ongoing economic crisis. Mattar was already wrestling with some of these themes in Dead Pets, Old Griefs.
“That’s one of the funny things about us Lebanese artists is that … if you listen to the records made a decade ago, or films made a decade or two ago, things in them resonate very deeply today. And they almost feel like they were made today. And I think that's pretty telling of how far and deep these issues go. So I guess I was trying to engage with that, with these underlying ghosts. Rather than make something very specific to today's time.”
These themes carry the listener across genre and song, as the music constantly changes but the lyrical preoccupations remain far more consistent. They do, however, take on different aspects as the album progresses.
Memory, to Mattar, is also powerful. “I do the remembering / Give names to nameless things / I've got archiving fever and I'm feeling for walls,” Mattar sings brightly in the album’s poppy single “Partners.”
For him, the ghosts of the past aren’t inescapable. “I guess this record is an attempt to answer for these ghosts… I don’t think I succeed but it’s part of the process to confront the ghosts,” he said. “I don’t think it’s hopeless.”
That sort of work is rarely completed on schedule. The songs on the album were gestating for three years, Mattar says, and there was a certain need to move on by releasing it, but he’s not closing the book on the topics he has been exploring. “I feel like I’m not done with the ghosts,” he says.
Interbellum will be touring in support of the album this June and July, with dates in Lebanon to be announced.
BEIRUT — “The earth spoke / with the first stroke of the spade / deeper, deeper / ‘til it has nothing left to say.” So begins Lebanese group-turned-solo project Interbellum’s newest album, released this month. As archives, as memories, as ghosts, as archeological records — the past appears again and again in shapeshifting form throughout the record, titled Our House is Very Beautiful...