The self-titled release by Los Angeles-based Auxiliary Priest is the artist’s tape debut, released on Joe McKay’s Spring Break Tapes label in July 2013 and available in an edition of 100 cassettes which can be purchased and fully streamed at Bandcamp. The overarching aesthetics are not immediately clear – they rarely are in terms of self-titled works – but the driving factor could best be described as spacial sybaritism. The liner notes deliver an even better slogan: "Auxiliary Priest – Extending humanity's reach into space and time." And this is exactly what the listener shall experience with this tape. Granted, Space Ambient is definitely not the latest rad, but its humble beginnings right after the New Age wave of releases have come a long way and created a large following. Atmospheric music for astronomical observatories, galactic documentaries and nights out in the fields of Kansas demand their own sets of rules: pungent drones, abyssal forces, plinking polar lights, synthetic supernovae, you name it. In a way, Space Ambient comes formidably close to your parents’ understanding of Ambient music in general, with the implied risks of blandness and artistic obsoletism. Luckily, Auxiliary Priest’s blue-colored gem is not driven by echopraxia. His two tracks are almost 15 minutes long, but are not so much long-form tracks rather than caskets harboring three movements or formations each. While these are distinctive, they are cohesive enough to maintain a pulling effect that draws the listener into the wideness of space. The artist’s space is deserted, no human voice is ever heard, but what this vast pith of nonentity lacks in humans, it gains in humaneness. Labyrinthine serpentines lead to glagolithic fields of static protuberances and delightfully synth-fueled stopovers. All of these movements neglect a cinematic vision, and purposefully so. This could probably be the aesthetic crime Auxiliary Priest could be charged with, at least from a Space Ambient fan’s perspective. However, the tape is as big as the sum of its parts. More of a diverse diorama than a multilayered maelstrom, it shuttles between organic entities and artificial aphorisms. How can Auxiliary Priest subsist in one of the genre’s most crowded niches, and what are the tape’s standout features? The following paragraphs will tell.
The color of the universe? Blue! For reel. Photograph by Joe McKay.
There’s that problem regarding Ambient music in general and space-oriented music in particular: how to unleash the first expanse? The solution is more often than not formulaic, artists tend to impose a gentle fade-in… or start with the big bang, the diametrically opposite kick-off. On side A of his self-titled tape, Auxiliary Priest sits somewhere in-between the dimensions and superimposes heterodynes of both habits. Starting in medias res, the erected panorama does have a physical beginning only – the reel in the cassette itself – but otherwise seems to have been there all along, existing independently from earthly joys. Limewashed stardust glitters complete with a silkened afterglow, curiously oscillating wisps and portentous nuances encapsulate the listening subject in an alloy of wonder and awe. The interdependence of the frequencies is much more important than carved out drone washes or melodious vestiges, at least on this side. The interim result comprises of a surprisingly aeriform listening experience; Auxiliary Priest lets the different formations unfold and allows the interstices to be filled with gaseous particles, softening the little clefts and interplanetary cracks much more apollonian (!) than a histrionic church organ akin to Incandescent Void’s Bardo (2012) ever could. Everything feels aglow and breezy. The balmy synth flumes in the background emanate amicability and effervescence until the track’s second phase around the five-minute mark leads to more convoluted, decidedly jagged climes, respiring turbulences, desiccate asbestus twangs and brazen clangs in overdrive mode. This mechanical counterpoint to the organic flow is still coherent enough to not feel like antimatter. The third and final part of side A then introduces bellicose paroxysms, argentine convulsions and a scything braiding of pompous eruptions. The presence of low frequency runlets increases, roaring cyber tigers stray in the ether, the amount of synthetic tendrils increases, spawning cauterized strings of doom. Over the course of side A, Auxiliary Priest steered the listener from a mélange of somnolent glitters over an increasingly serrated pother to a crepuscular ignis fatuus supercharged with gyring figments and deceptive cadences. Hauntology ahoy!
Notwithstanding the pontificated lecture about an Ambient artist’s approach of Space Ambient, the aural physiognomy of side B makes everything feel incongruous at best. What a great way to start the second piece! In short: the listener is swallowed by a benignant effulgence awash with light. Right from the get-go, side B is the contradictory but oh so smarmy antagonist, an undulation overloaded with 8-bit square lead spirals, a verdured circumambience close to an apotheosis, a gossamer fundament of alluvial bliss. Melodious and cautiously rhythmic, the divine susurration even keeps its epicurean epithelium when the polyphony shifts into shadier keys. Feeling more like a nebula than a fluxion, it soon radiates all of its corpuscles, making room after approximately four minutes for a vestibule leading to mephitic gusts in the nullspace. Blackness reigns in this region, only lit by multitudinously reciprocating AM radio frequencies, stacks of granular resonances and spectral scintillae. It is here where a certain balance is of the utmost importance; the section swells, grows and resembles the mesmerizing superstructure of a black hole, but the path to this state does not even feature one single exaggerated or hysteric texture; nothing is overcrowded, for there is enough room in the universe. And the artist proves it by injecting another segment, the third and final of this piece. Diffractive and mildly exhilarative, its nucleus is made of solar synths around whose gestalt large-grained blizzards float. I sense a processed guitar undercurrent which is all the better brought to light thanks to the comparably fragile arrangement, with the periphery becoming increasingly chlorotic. Side B then comes to an abrupt end, stops all of a sudden, throws the listener back to Earth. An astute modus operandi, methinks. The tape allows but a glimpse into the cosmos. Humanity sees its future in space, but is not tolerated there.
A fusillade of vertiginous manifestations leading to an epiphany that etches away anyone’s glabella, Auxiliary Priest’s debut on Spring Break Tapes risks the danger of being asphyxiated by the cavalcades of clichés that reign in the Space Ambient genre. Danger, shmanger, the artist simply absorbs many of the genre’s arcana, takes from the profusion and moulds everything into a colossal galaxy-spanning melting pot. Uniting six segues in two tracks, the self-titled tape is more of a floatation device, celebrating the concept of an alatoric journey rather than the pedantic patchwork of a quilt. There is no leitmotif interwoven, and this omission is as neglectful as it is apposite. The artist offers a looking glass through the universe in tape form, and since there is no rule applied, no NASA sample heard, let alone a human voice – akin to Space Ambient works like The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991) or Gel-Sol’s IZ (2008) –, hell, not even a profound explanatory note with an adumbrated concept, the self-titled tape is a humble artifact multiplexing various meanings via defiance. This is no space opera, there are no jet engines, propulsion or dying stars. In a way, Auxiliary Priest outlines the innermost feelings. Thankfully, there are neither forsaken wastelands nor apocryphal elations imposed on the listener. The intervening space makes this release so successful, the moment of a shift, the realization that something new is coming, another section about to launch. Given the runtime of roughly 15 minutes per side, the conglomerate compositions all feel saturnine, mercurial, moony and sunny at once. Glitch globs, Drone billows and noise vesicles are the architectural hallmarks. Those who prefer a comparably fugacious trip or transient transit instead of bathing in galactosamines of 30+ minutes length in the veins of Tony Scott’s Voyage Into A Black Hole (1988) should check out Auxiliary Priest’s tape or its digital incarnation. It lives up to the surroundings it is embedded in.
Further listening and reading:
- Auxiliary Priest's tape can be purchased and streamed at Bandcamp. More info is available at SpringBreakTapes.com.
- The Twitter account of Spring Break Tapes is @SBTAPES.
Ambient Review 306: Auxiliary Priest – Auxiliary Priest (2013). Originally published on Jan. 15, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.