Stray Theories is the Australian born and New Zealand based musician Micah Templeton- Wolfe who has been releasing music since 2006 and has appeared on labels such as Already Dead, self released digital and physical, and a bunch of digital releases through the likes of A Strangest Isolated Place, Bloodsugar Records and others. His latest release “All That Was Lost” is the first since his self released EP “We Never Left”, comes out on venerable US imprint n5MD on June 29 with 100 copies on transparent blue vinyl, CD and Digital.
The label has this to say: “Templeton-Wolfe’s time away has not been for naught. Composing for films, collaborations with like-minded artists and a plethora of remix projects, all while creating a sample pack for the Noiiz sample app under new project Ocean Lost. So, it’s been a busy time for Templeton-Wolfe. While he has seemingly been focusing his efforts elsewhere, Templeton-Wolfe has been quietly composing for “All That Was Lost”, an album which is imbued in spades with Stray Theories signature mood-altering soundscapes. Muted electronics have always played a part in the Stray Theories pallet, and some of Templeton-Wolfe’s extracurricular work might have something to do with those textures now being brought a bit more to the fore. In Templeton-Wolfe’s hand, these fit perfectly within the personally subjective nature his music has always suggested. “All That Was Lost” is a cinematic ambient gem brought into the world at a time when we need it most.”
When you think about the amount of music that regularly is released by musicians in the Ambient underground, it is refreshing when an artist takes time between releases to either work on other projects, do remixes, live a normal life or simply grow as a musician. Its been almost four years between releases under the Stray Theories name and the result is impressive.
“How Long” long emotive guitar drones spiral out from the distance, cloaked in a certain mist. Small bites of piano gently roll in giving the music a sense of romance, while bass lines drive, howling winds and scattering electronics fill out the sound. You feel the music is in perpetual motion like a storm, but circling over familiar territory with slight variations in the environment. There is a mixture of melody and a hint of menace with more levels and degrees of sound to count. Some music that falls into the Ambient/ Drone classification can be fairly rooted in one-dimensional sound, but in this case there is enough to go on here without the music feeling repetitive or stale.
“Challenge” stabs of echoing sounds bring forth a pastoral feeling guitar led track which seems to fuse emotional qualities as well as emitting light. The playing is meditative with its constant rhythms alongside the layer of drones also create. Backwards electronics start to filter into the track which leads it into a slightly different territory that is mark with a fuller, grander sound. The music feels orchestral simply in its scope. The layers of guitars add differing sounds, a treated guitar or some sort of mallet percussion adds a nice melody before moody darker drones take over. Synths and cello create big thick sounding drones that split the track in two with an ominous edge dripping in melancholy which was not heard before.
“Nightstate” slow burning howling glacial drones bring forth other drones which slice across with the power of a string section behind them. You feel the music is thick with emotion. Padding hand percussion enters subtly and briefly, while siren like horn drones cascade around. The music has the feeling that if it were a string section of an orchestra that they would be wringing out the last drop of the notes from their instruments. If the track resembled an environment or a particular area it would be desolate.
“Leave” has a hint of hope through the melodic drones that cut through the track. They are uplifting in their sound and as the track moves forward they keep growing. There is a certain amount of static in the background that gives you the feeling of the clouds have parted and light is shining on what was obscured previously. Of it were used cinematically, then for me the theme, including the title of the track, would indicate some sort of hope for the future, but only if the lessons of the past were understood and learnt.
“Begin” feels like an orchestra has been employed in the track, such is the sweeping nature of it. Manipulated electronics are intertwined with swirling ambience, rumbling tones, bass lines, soaring drones all coming together to create a piece of music that traverses multiple genres – neo classical, Ambient/Drone, even Moody vapourwave. A hint of 80’s Synths finds its way in there with soaring guitar lines radiating out and changing the texture of the piece from pure orchestral ambient/drone to a more expansive soundscape. You feel Templeton-Wolfe’s work in soundtracks have shown their influence here.
“Embrace” distant non intrusive drones are joined with piano that is minimal in its chords , but maximizes its sound. Guitar lines weave their way out in tandem with the piano playing while a bed of electronics and percussion slowly announces itself and pairs nicely with the other elements. The track very slowly builds up, creating layer upon layer of sound and revealing different textures to the track. The drones that were very quiet in the beginning become more prominent throughout the track before leading the track to the end, once more paired with the piano.
“All Our Tears” with a title such as this its natural to include a degree of melancholy to the music. The title alone could reference tears of pain or tears of joy. The piano included does have a melancholic quality without being overly morose. The playing is fluid with a controlled pace and is the central element to which a rather stark ambience can affix itself to. A gentle addition of drones and strings doesn’t force the issue, but does share the same emotional qualities of the piano. As the track moves on, the playing becomes more focused which compliments the strings as together the track builds up much like the tracks before it.
“Us” a bed of piano, synths, drones and guitar all sharing a flickering feeling bring the album’s final track through the emotions of the previous six into the light. A diversion into ’80s inspired synth sounds minimal percussion and progressions adds to this feeling of weight being lifted off and endless possibilities. You can see why the label chose to feature it on Soundcloud as it features elements that represent the album, but also the uplifting nature of the track.
I am not sure if the album is a concept one, but there is a feeling of coming full circle and of an emotional journey. The cover, a stunning obscured photo by fellow musician Alex Kozobolis (1631 Recordings, Unknown Tone Recordings) hints at the music, looking at a person from behind that could be a murky reflection from a puddle. As mentioned previously this is an album that is impressive without a single let down throughout the album. The music shows depth and creativity with an emphasis on creating rich, dense and rewarding music. Recommended.