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 has almost nothing on them, YouTube has two songs, wikipedia has literally nothing on them, and myspace has an outdated page.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.  

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