BEIRUT—“It’s cold in the morning / It’s cold in the mourning,” chants Tamara Qaddoumi on the second track of her forthcoming EP, “Sorry Signal,” out Dec. 8. Qaddoumi’s lyrics elide the distance between the natural and the human-made in this electronic album borne out of experiences of death and mourning in relatives’ hospital rooms.
Instrumentally, the album is layered with synths, drum machines, heavily processed guitars, bass and, on two tracks, field recordings of hospital machines. But lyrically, it’s elemental, starting with the album’s lead single, “Under the Knife,” in which Qaddoumi croons about being underwater. In two other tracks, another ancient element, fire, appears as something we can either pass through or perhaps be cremated within.
Beirut-based Lebanese/Palestinian/Scottish musician Qaddoumi grew up in Kuwait, the landscape of which made itself felt on her first EP, 2018’s “Dust Bathing.” Dust storms, lack of rain and open night skies are delicately offered up over mellow but nonetheless bright pop tracks evocative of American electronic duo Sylvan Esso.
2021’s “Soft Glitch” EP, a product of the COVID-19 lockdowns, was a more restless musical collection, with insistent bass and drum lines across most of the tracks.
Her third offering is her most somber yet.
“The longer I’ve been here, the darker things have been getting. I think there’s been a lot of turbulence everywhere — our planet is going through a lot of turbulence. So it only makes sense that our inner worlds are also kind of trembling,” she said in a recent sitdown with L’Orient Today. In addition to Lebanon’s and the world’s well-known traumas, there have also been personal ones related to family members’ sickness and health.
“Grief is really a lingering illness that comes and goes … it doesn’t really go away. I feel very blessed and lucky enough that I have a medium where I could really kind of just put that out and close that chapter.”
Over the past five years Qaddoumi’s music has always been, in a general sense, electronic, although she performs live with a band featuring traditional instrumentation — guitar, drums, bass, keys — something she said she’ll continue when touring in support of “Sorry Signal.” The new EP takes things further in the direction of synth music, a fusion of dream pop and cold wave that Qaddoumi likes to call “Cold Pop.”
“What happened is that this EP, ‘Sorry Signal,’ which is really based on grieving and death and the afterlife, rumination of death, I was really taken by hospital machinery and the sounds that they make, the way they look and that’s an instrument on its own.”
In parallel, she’s been exploring synths more deeply alongside her partner, producer and co-songwriter Antonio Hajj. “I’ve always admired those sounds, but I never knew how they were made when I was younger. … I was a bit intimidated by the machinery. The way I look at machinery is it’s just these complex emotions that you could just turn a knob and that on its own is a branch to another emotion and another emotion. To be able to reflect that fluidity from your head to this machinery is so intricate.”
“The more we’ve gotten fluent, personally, sonically, with what we want, our sounds are getting much more accurate. And we’ve gone through a lot together. So it’s kind of started to get a bit darker with everything,” Qaddoumi said.
The latest EP is also her first collaboration with producer Fadi Tabbal of Tunefork Studios, a mainstay of the Lebanese alternative scene who has traced an arc from traditional instruments to synths and electronics.
But, at the same time, she insists that her musical trajectory is not linear.
“This EP is much more electronic, yes, but the next one shouldn’t be. You know what I mean? I think it’s important to always recognize the artists that you’re hearing and their sounds … But also not to be stagnant in the work that you do.”
She said she feels no shame in changing and developing as an artist.
“A lot of people regret their past work. And they’re like, ‘oh my god, I'm so embarrassed with that first EP, because I was young.’ I'm like, ‘you know, I don’t really feel that way.’ It’s just like tattoos. You know? You get that shitty tattoo when you're 18 and it’s whatever. It’s fine.”
Lead single “Under the Knife” was released last week. The EP, coming in December, will be promoted at shows in Beirut and Kuwait later this year, with a European tour planned for the beginning of next year.