Sensory overload: Mala gets her groove back

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

“Love is out of my control,” crooned R&B singer Mala near the close of her set at Café Bourbon St. on a recent Thursday. It wasn’t out of her thoughts, however, and much of the musician’s 40-minute set centered on those pliant, ever-shifting bonds between human beings.

On “Change,” an urgent number layered with thumping drums and airy, space-age synthesizers, the narrator in the song struggled to find a balance between accommodating a partner and holding true to his or her ideals. “They Say,” a sultry tune flecked with heated horns, deep, wide bass, and slight drums that rumbled like rainwater on a plastic awning, found the couple at its center wrestling with public perception. Then on “Bae,” an oddly hypnotic number littered with mutated vocals samples and electronic effects that mirrored coins dropped one by one into a mason jar, the singer repeatedly professed her love to a partner in a voice as soft and comforting as a favored blanket.

Still other songs centered on Mala’s relationship with herself, and the struggle to maintain inner-peace while navigating life’s ups and downs. “This is a love letter I wrote to myself,” she said, introducing a measured, conversational number that centered on one key question: “How does anyone survive?”

The answer, which cropped up repeatedly throughout the evening, appeared to rest in finding and fostering relationships with others, and the singer’s words projected a sense that even the most resilient among us needs a helping hand from time to time. “I’m going to focus on me now,” the singer crooned on one number, a momentary blip in a set where she repeatedly found strength in others.

Generally, the musical backdrops were inventive — witness the eternally chill, vaguely retro “To the End,” which layered together record scratches and slinky drums, and “Battle,” a syncopated wonder built on booming bass and wobbly, drunken synthesizers. And following a rocky start (Chalk it up to nerves? Excitement?), Mala settled into a nice vocal groove, hitting her peak on the set-closing “Forever Ago.” “Here it goes again,” she cooed as the beat looped on and on, both singer and song holding tight, neither wanting to let go.