Notes on Noise, St. Sol, Ravish Momin, Aaron Pond, BoRBS and Riot Dent

We're so happy to have music coverage on Artblog! Thank you, Alex Smith! Smith writes with the passion and insights of a music maker (which he is) and the wordsmithing of an artist and writer who loves sharing thoughts, ideas and commentary. We hope you love being introduced to Philadelphia's thriving young music scene. As Smith says about music writing, "As there is a dearth of writing about what’s happening deeply beneath the surface in this town, it’s beyond time for the weirder, wilder (and sometimes queer-er and Black-er) sounds to be uncovered." We agree.


St. Sol standing with their hand on their head in the night.
St. Sol. Courtesy Georgia Wescott (@george.jpg)

Yes, a new column–ish. Notes on Noise will be a semi-recurring document of the ever-shifting, artistic strains of musical happenings of Philadelphia, a city that has always exploded with boundary pushing. And to think, this writer – me, Alex Smith – punk rock tramp, deliciously evasive Afrofuturist luddite, the only austere maximalist you’ll ever know– imagined himself as someone who could ever be spirited away from the throes of music writing. No, there’s not many experiences so utterly impactful, so immersive, as writing about your favorite (or least favorite) band. I’m also eager to share these talents with an audience of art lovers like you. I aim to share a sprinkling of the avant garde Philadelphia area scene. Sometimes it’ll be scene reports, show listings/reviews, or full interviews. This space won’t be able to cover everyone, all the time, but as there is a dearth of writing about what’s happening deeply beneath the surface in this town, it’s beyond time for the weirder, wilder (and sometimes queer-er and Black-er) sounds to be uncovered.

So, let’s talk about St. Sol. St. Sol is Philly’s answer to vapory dreamwave, done with haunting, ghostly atmospherics. Where 2021’s debut LIMINA found the artist taking shimmering compositions to new frontiers of minimalism, and 2023’s follow up track “Trine Hymn,” sounded like a desperate dirge and a melancholy lament for uncertain times, the new track “Me and My Leviathan” practically rocks by comparison.

An opening cinematic riff of stringy keyboard stabs portends the cosmic wonder ahead. Layers of sound cascade over sparse, dubby industrial beats, warm bass pulsing like blood through a deep vascular sonic body. Lyrically, St. Sol has always expounded on myth, discovering through the legendary creatures of lore and literature, to unearth the simmering creature within. While they contemplate the leviathan, there’s an uncertainty here about myth’s role, especially as it relates to navigating people: Guardian? Crutch? Inner anxiety? “Me and My Leviathan”’s beauty lies in its innate danceability, its head-nod factor, as it beats an eerie urban soundtrack in great contrast to its contemplative, sobering wordplay.
[Ed note: Read Corey Qureshi’s 2021 review of St. Sol’s ‘Amphibian’ EP. ]

A drummer wearing earphones, a long-sleeve t-shirt with a pattern of black stripes on white, sits at a drum set, one stick in an upraised right hand like he’s mid strike, on a stage in an atmosphere that is dark with bands of pinky red light in back of him.
Ravish Momin aka Sunken Cages, Photo Credit: Positive Futures Festival, Australia

A newish arrival to Philly’s shores, “Sunken Cages” is Ravish Momin’s exquisite drum project. Weaving dense samples, electronic beats, and an otherworldly tribalistic rhythmic cadence, Sunken Cages’s world is populated by the sounds, sights and spirituality of a cyberpunk India-by-way-of Philadelphia. It’s the upcoming team-up with Faraway Ghost that promises to expand on this aesthetic, furrowing into darker territories. Having appeared on Sunken Cages’s Turning Jewels into Water LP, this new project sees a collaboration with Faraway Ghost– Iranian multi-instrumentalist and sound crafter Kamyar Arsani– that could break our tiny, noise-laden, experimental corner of the internet. The duo’s set from a semi-recent Fire Museum gig at the Rotunda is the perfect encapsulation of their “mysticism for cyborgs” sound – both artists locked in frenetic call and response, pushing the boundaries of tech-infused spiritual folk music for a century the planet may not even see.

Speaking of the Rotunda, the venue at 40th and Walnut Street has long been a home for Philly’s weird, wild, wonderful noise. Now, it’s the literal home of a group of musicians, known as the 52nd Street Planetary Ensemble, empowered by saxophonist and experimenter Ibha Baskette. The Ensemble is a rambunctious confluence of musical spirit-channeling, played by experienced musicians, relative novices, and grand-masters alike! The group jams and practices at the Rotunda in a somewhat open, come as you are, type of environment, birthing sounds that are surprisingly connected, dreamy and danceable. The Ensemble is such a powerful testament to the art of community building, their music like a noise-spiked, no-wave disco party thrown by another ensemble, Chicago’s Art Ensemble and New York city’s The Pop Group, in the basement of a revolutionary bookstore. After making their live debut at Pageant: Soloveev (another spot for the incendiary), Baskette’s 52nd Street Planetary Ensemble rocked the Rotunda, further solidifying the sense of home their music brings to Philly’s already rich tradition.

A young man with curly reddish long hair plays a French horn with so much passion that his eyes are closed. He holds the horn in a non-standard way
Aaron Pond. Photo by Jessica Brown

Another galvanizer of the avant community is the spritely, future Ozeki (he’ll know what I’m talking about), Aaron Pond. His project, BoRBS, bristles with the kinetic, elfin energy of their live shows – seemingly disparate parts come together, unassuming members playing unusual instruments with a post-jazz fervor. I’m reminded of 2000’s-era hypnagogic experimentalist pop bands you’d see at West Philly house show spaces like Danger Danger, but there’s a deliberate and elevated virtuosic approach to the craft, more whimsical in some ways but quite studied, the group’s defiance shining through with a delicate sense of humor.

Four musicians pose, barefoot or in socks, in a rehearsal space, each wearing a fancy hat that evokes (perhaps pokes fun at) the hat the pope wears. They are all smiling or mugging for the camera.
BoRBS is for BoRBS. Photo by Thomas Patteson

On their upcoming LP Motivic Consciousness, flutes, chimes, gongs, randomly plucked guitar, and even accidental mic-stand bumps and “Hey, watch that, pal!” type screams and other shards of sound are utilized in the live setting. Pond’s penchant for bringing people of various disciplines together continues Philly’s rich tradition of collaboration. His shows, under his name or BoRBs or even the newly formed collective People’s Music Supply, often match the energy of a Saturday Morning cartoon with bright, proto-social anarchistic themes, ebullient spirituality and a unique theatrical strain. Think Anthony Braxton and Ween making an album for Elephant 6 (probably about birds, wrestling, and revolution). Strange, unmatched sonics pierce the veil, drenching the audience in a playful, droney ephemera. It’s future music without abandoning the past.

But for me, the most electrifying Philly release has been Riot Dent’s newest EP, RENT DUE. An absolute gut-punch of a record, RENT DUE sees Philly’s pre-eminent noise band Sour Spirit’s drummer Lev breaking out MPC sampler, music software and electronics to create a sparse world that can only be described as apocalyptic. Those looking for Sour Spirit’s skronk, the band’s blasty rhythms, warped bass, and emotional “throw your instruments into the wall and scream your brains out” brand of chaos, may not be fully satisfied on first listen. Move deeper into these cuts, listeners will find that the sounds on RENT DUE have their own sense of chaos, their own entropic cadence, rendering these songs a great bit darker. I’m reminded of pre-record deal Gonjasufi, industrial hip hop innovated by artists like Mike Ladd, BLACKIE or Philly’s own Carl Kavorkian – yes, that’s Riot Dent rapping and toasting on this joint, solemn stories about futuristic city life, a harrowing existence carved out of frantic breakbeats and perhaps the most jarring sample-merging I’ve heard in awhile. Under the wall of noise here, there’s a beauty. Riot Dent spends a lot of his time here immersed in the murkiness and uncertainty of a world torn apart by high rents, pandemics and genocides, but still finds time to bear witness to all of it – the ugly, the beautiful, the Philadelphia underground.

Read more by Alex Smith on Artblog


Further reading:
Chicago Art Ensemble/Art Ensemble of Chicago
The Rotunda
Danger Danger
People’s Music Supply
Anthony Braxton and Ween
Elephant 6
Carl Kavorkian