Monday, October 29, 2012

Ph Balance - "Ph Balance" (LP Review)

I'm betting you haven't heard of the band Ph Balance; few people outside of their original Atlanta base have.  Outside of a chance viewing of one of their videos in 1999 on the "Independent Music Network" (I've forgotten which cable channel carried it), I would not have heard of them either. has almost nothing on them, YouTube has two songs, wikipedia has literally nothing on them, and myspace has an outdated page. 

The summarized band history goes something like this: Pam Howe (the "Ph" in Ph Balance) and Christopher Burt have formed the basis of Cicada Sings, then Ph Balance, then Chakra Bird, then (and current, I believe) Pam Howe's Bossa Nova Jazz.  Cicada Sings was a straightforward lounge, jazz, bossa nova band, and when they incorporated a hip-hop esthetic (complete with a few new members), they changed their name to Ph Balance.

What makes Ph Balance different from the 100s of other bands that seek to achieve the prized but elusive jazz/hip-hop integration is they do it with from a solid jazz orientation: no samples, the instruments are acoustic, and the synths are rare and limited to background use (think of them as a lounge-oriented version of The Roots, or the acoustic, non-trip-hop version of Portishead).  MC Mudfish provides the adequate rapping, but the star of the show is Pam Howe: the Gen-X, hip-hop influenced torch singer.  Not unlike Blondie 20+ years earlier, while Ph Balance is technically a band the whole thing works only because of Pam. 

The sound is very much of the time, and while not every experiment works (a few songs are worth skipping), they fail while trying to do interesting things so the misses are easily forgiven.  "Soothing" was the video I saw in 1999 (it may well be their only video), and it made such an impression on me that I had to order this LP.  Their eponymous first LP was released on tiny Daemon Records (founded by Amy Ray) and although I think it is out of print you can still find new copies on Amazon

Standout Songs: Soothing, Flora Avenue, C'est Noire, Come Back to My Arms (And Stay), Whirl Twirl Toy, Speak To My Face, Hand Hurt, I Want to Shrink, (find these songs at grooveshark).

Skip 'em Songs: She Favors Winter, Kaleidoscope React, Back Off

Final Score: 8/10

Bonus link:  cduniverse has an informative LP review.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sirah - "Double Yellow Lines" (spotlight)

Since the previous post mentioned Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, you might be asking "whatever happened to her?"  I can now tell you she has been reincarnated as Sirah, the 20-something DIY punk/indie-pop/hip-hop rapper. 

I learned about her a while back when 96.1 played the Skrillex song "Bangarang", in which she is featured.  Poking around on Youtube turned up her 2011 single "Double Yellow Lines".  Since she's unsigned, her discography is not entirely clear: I think this song was supposed to appear on an EP called "Trick'd", but I can't determine if that was ever released.  You can learn more about her in various interviews: LAWeekly; Her Campus; Mousertime; Vlaze.

In the "Double Yellow Lines" video, Sirah is clearly channelling Annabella as the mohawked coquette, albeit updated by 30 years.  Although it is probably a coincidence, the video also features a "Luncheon on the Grass", like BWW's "See Jungle..." LP.  However, instead of the "Endless Summer" beach setting of the "I Want Candy" video, DYL is set in a safe, suburban environment: how many music videos do you know that feature a bunch of kids riding around in a minivan, filling up on gas, and eating at a diner?  Danette also noted the "Chatty Cathy" reference in the lyrics -- not standard fare for Gen Yer

Regardless, the whole thing works surprisingly well.  A youthful, light-hearted video that captures the spirit of the song, well-produced and successfully straddling a number of genres; I'm surprised this song hasn't launched a career for her (yet).  I'm not really her target demographic; I have more in common with the boring, old-enough-to-be-her-dad guy that appears at 1:14 in video (left), but the video is so fun that it makes me feel like the just-happy-to-be-here entourage guy that appears at 3:20 (right).

Sirah - "Double Yellow Lines"

Since this is neither a cover, forgotten song, nor a review of a complete release, I've started a new series, "spotlight", for songs that deserve attention but don't fit in the previously define categories.

Bow Wow Wow - "I Want Candy" (forgotten song)

Earlier this week Danette and I saw Adam Ant at the Norva.  Danette was more of a fan of Adam and the Ants/Adam Ant than I ever was and Adam is looking a little worse for the wear, but it was a fun show regardless.

It does remind me that I've been meaning to blog about Bow Wow Wow for a while; the connection being that Bow Wow Wow was formed when band manager Malcom McLaren (of Sex Pistols fame) convinced the Ants to leave Adam and form their own band with Annabella Lwin as the lead singer. 

That was probably a bad decision since although Bow Wow Wow had some success in the UK, their biggest hit in the US was their 1982 cover of the song "I Want Candy", released in 1965 by The Strangeloves.  "I Want Candy" is probably the most well-known example of the "Bo Diddley Beat" (bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp).  Many (most?) artists have used this beat at some point in their career (here's a good list of  examples) and you have to ask yourself: given the primal effectiveness of the Bo Diddley Beat, why do we even have other beats?

Bow Wow Wow: "I Want Candy"
The Stangeloves: "I Want Candy"
Bo Diddley: "Bo Diddley", "Hey, Bo Diddley"