Nearly all materials regarding Auxiliary Priest’s 2013 self-titled debut draw allusions to the vastness of the universe, space travel, and other overworked interstellar touchstones. While Auxiliary Priest’s extended forays into electronic drone can indeed evoke interplanetary imagery, aligning its music with typical forbearers of space-centric sounds leaves the wrong impression. Auxiliary Priest foregoes the shimmering builds and payoffs associated with space rock and contemporary drone in favor of plaintive, unresolved, and consistently foreboding soundscapes. In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog stays the course, creating a soundtrack more fit for grieving the slow death of our world than celebrating the beauty of the universe.
As with Auxiliary Priest’s debut, In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog consists of two sidelong pieces. Side A remains incredibly sparse in content, with one central drone shifting in and out of focus over the course of fifteen minutes. Using subtle repetition and dynamic shifts, Side A approximates the sound of 1960s academic electronic music slowly decomposing. The piece repeatedly expands and decays, reaching no higher sonic ground in its maturation. The listener is left without a simple conclusion or comfortable respite. Side A is a testament to Auxiliary Priest’s dedication to restraint, building impressive atmosphere out of bleak austerity.
Side B acts as an effective counterpoint to Side A’s stark minimalism, passing through loose compositional segues without sacrificing a sense of spontaneity. Traditionally heavy, fuzzed-out moments begin to appear alongside more esoteric textures, only to be met with contrasting stretches of skittering high-pitched electronic frequencies. The resulting push and pull of these opposing elements eschews predictable thematic shifts and resolutions. Moments of intensity occur without climbs and fade without warning. Side B embraces varied sounds while upholding Side A’s lack of denouement.
In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog succeeds in creating an unsettling sonic environment. Tones are pitch-shifted and decayed to a point beyond recognition. Aural textures often contain no clear origin, bearing few connecting threads with familiar electronic sounds. While Side B monetarily revels in dimed-out distortion, the material strays from self-indulgence overall. Auxiliary Priest gains a high degree of emotional resonance without relying on the tension build/release schema of traditional drone convention. With In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog, Auxiliary Priest has created a haunting and exploratory piece of electronic minimalism.