World hop: Ph Balance goes au naturel

By Mark Grabowski

“I write songs and poems about beauty, planets, blooms, the French, honey, gifts, and curses.”
Oh how I love the human species! I mean, look at the variation: instead of six billion human drones walking around, indistinguishable but for a small affect to their appearance, we have scientists, Don Juans, carjackers, and mimes.
Pam Howe, leader of the trip-hop group Ph Balance, and the author of the above quote, is a definite testament to human variation. Her bio ( HYPERLINK reads like a journal entry for a starry-eyed 14-year-old: “I communicate my heart and ideas about the planet and universe through hip hop beats and southern ice tea'd rhythms... slowing the pulse to a soothing passionate hum that is felt more than heard and marinated more than eaten... banana pudding: sweet po' sass E um. I'm a busy honey bee buzzin'... so grateful to be alive and flying.”
Howe fronted the bossa nova indie-pop group Cicada Sings, who released a critically favored album (Lousy Private Fuzz) in the early ‘90s– one of their claims to fame was opening for Lisa Loeb (no comment). The group mutated into an experimental three-piece trio in the mid-‘90s, which included present drummer Chris Burt, eventually picking up percussionist Tony James, bassist Kevin Vines, and an MC by the name of Captain Mudfish Starbolt (I’m betting he is cooler than anyone you know).
Taking influence from A Tribe Called Quest and Howe’s reportedly paradigm-changing encounter with G. Love and Special Sauce, the group began to combine elements of hip-hop, jazz, and pop, concocting their present day sound. As the trip-hop genre they hold allegiance to decrees, their music is down-tempo, beat-heavy, and bass-driven– the perfect sound to smoke some… (well, you get the idea).
The focal point of most of the group’s music is Howe– instruments, beats, and samples all seem to shimmer like mirages around the constant truth of her voice. And luckily, Howe does not have a bad one. Remember ‘90s girl-powerhouse Luscious Jackson? The flow and pitch of Howe’s rhymes sound strongly of the late– sometimes great– LJ, when they decided to break away from melody and go au naturel. And although she seems to do it rather infrequently on their latest disc, Fluent, Howe has a breathy vibrato-heavy jazz-inflicted voice that is quite pleasing to my pop-addled ears.
Ph Balance plays the Outback Lodge Friday, July 19, with Cinema 8, a rock-pop outfit fronted by former Fighting Gravity member Michael Sauri. If you’re looking for a one/two punch of rock and groove-heavy trip hop, you’ve got some whacked-out musical tastes, but the Fates have aligned in your favor– you can find both styles under one roof tomorrow night.

Ph Balance w/ Cinema 8 perform at Outback Lodge July 19 at 10pm. $6.

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