Baked with excessive thought and glazed with a voice that fetches us back to the folk pop songs of Aimee Mann and Feist, Hana Malhas and the Overthinkers’ eponymous new album is a heartrending sedative more potent than pound cake.
The Jordanian singer-songwriter, who shuffles between Amman and Atlanta, primps up the girl-on-guitar act as a global, timeless genre sewn into the modern song and ever resonant with a generation in constant need to connect.
“It’s ridiculous to be connected 24/7. Sometimes, I want to throw my phone into the ocean and live in a cabin. Well, maybe not a cabin—a beach house, so I can fish for the phone if needed,” Malhas told Cairo360 as she sat in a kitchen piecing together maps of Cairo ahead of her upcoming tour.
Malhas’s yearning heart-songs in her five-track EP and second album, co-produced with vocalist Michelle Chamuel and featuring rotating band members, convey the sensibilities of a woman getting by with her heart on her sleeve, a pen in hand, and a guitar in the other. She sings about the usual things, she says—human relationships, love, and loss.
“I think what makes them relatable—if someone relates to them—is that I take my time trying to find the right words to describe a particular feeling or state of mind,” Malhas says.
Progressing from her collaborative tunes in her debut LP Shapeshift (2010), which includes an Arabic duet, the new release album contains frank lyrics and arrangements that pivot around her real strength: her voice.
“That was sort of the point with this EP. It is way more cohesive than the first album because we focused on the idea of building the pieces around the voice and lyrics,” she says.
‘How We Love’, played on the piano, carries a lilt to and fro that Malhas describes as her “ship-wreck song.”
“Whenever I sing it, I feel like it’s a ship wreck in the aftermath of a raging storm: The silence that comes after, the slight howling wind, the dust, the waves, until the end with the last chorus when the storm returns all over again,” she says.
Malhas’s personal favourite, ‘Sad Thin & Reckless’, is simple and vocally raw, while ‘Just a Dream' and ‘Run’ are definitive of the album’s theme of longing. A bonus acoustic version of ‘Run’ completes the introduction to the Malhas’s vocal range.
Born and raised in Jordan, Malhas traces her musical cairo360users to her parent’s music collection that included Cat Stevens and Barbara Streisand and to her own early playlists that took in ‘90s folk and soft rock like Tori Amos and Jewel. These days, she’s a fan of the wider indie scene and performs covers of similar bands like Florence and the Machine.
Educated in the US, Malhas played gigs though her university studies at University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and only recently quit a day job that supported her since she obtained her MBA.
This summer, her concerts are limited to the Middle East, where she wishes to make a dent. Choosing Cairo over Beirut for her August tour, she is scheduled this week to perform tunes from her latest album, indie covers, and Arabic originals on Wednesday at Bikya in Maadi and on Friday at El Sawy Culturewheel in Zamalek.