Available on: Modern Love LP
In addition to carrying serious cachet as a DJ, Miles Whittaker an impressively diverse discography: he’s released bleak occult music as half of Demdike Stare, stripped-back Detroit techno as MLZ, offbeat dancefoor experiments as Millie of Millie and Andrea, all-analogue noise as Suum Cuique, and fucked-up scuzzy hardcore as part of the HATE project, a shadowy sub-label / artist group of Modern Love, the Manchester imprint that’s home to all these monikers. After all that, releasing his debut solo record proper under his own name feels like a personal move, one intended to condense the best of those ideas over eight tracks into the essence of Miles Whittaker. Faint Hearted, then, is a paean to a number of electronic genres from someone clearly too enamoured of them all to pick just one.
As a result, Faint Hearted sometimes feels less like an album and more like an expertly crafted mixtape, running the gamut of Whittaker’s musical loves. Take the opener, ‘Lebensform’, an exhilarating junglistic trip. Run through all kinds of filters, its breakbeat is by turns scuzzy and hard-hitting. Whether it’s in the foreground or buried beneath electronic mulch, the rhythm never loses its propulsive drive, gaining in intensity when joined by cranium-splitting shards of noise. ‘Lebensform’ is by no means a club track though, unlike ‘Status Narcissism’, the most obviously techno track here. Deft drum patterns from the Pole school of minimalism rub against mucky pads, all tense build and no climax, while ‘Rejoice’ also taps the rich vein of Whittaker’s techno lineage but owes more to the warmed-up dub-techno of Basic Channel. A pretty, gleaming synth passage is joined by a bass throb that sounds like it’s coming from the next room, misted-over vocal samples and metallic clangs. The result, at once poignant, uplifting and haunting, is one of Faint Hearted’s best tracks.
The typically blackened, decayed sound of Demdike Stare crops up throughout, most obviously in ‘Archaic Thought Pattern 1’, a highlight that combines greyscale grit with brooding strings. ‘Sense Data’, by contrast, is Faint Hearted’s ambient heart, its warm drone layered with clanks and weird synth swoops. It sounds like the soundtrack to an old sci-fi film, as does the stunning synthwave closer ‘Lorian Dreams’. That cinematic aspect – not “cinematic” as a catch-all for anything with a towering melody, but referring to the inspiration Whittaker draws from film as well as music – is one of the characteristics that unifies the multitude of sounds on Faint Hearted, and makes the record Miles’ own. Another is his peculiar mangling of samples in tracks like ‘Queuing’, a short piece of bizarre concrète. The only real low point is ‘Irreligious’, which drags in no particular direction and so feels like a prolonged interlude.
Whittaker could easily have tied himself to a single style and written an accomplished album, so his genre-specific approach is particularly refreshing. In spite of all that variety, releasing under a familiar first name is fitting too, as each track feels like a different facet to the single artist, the jungle as integral to his essence as the dread techno and the concrète. That’s pretty rare, and no doubt the outcome of years of obsessive crate-digging and DJing. In fact, listening to Faint Hearted is a bit like having Miles personally guide you through his extensive record collection, each selection prompting him to pick out another favourite. And though the journey might meander slightly, his aptitude across so many musical fields means that that’s no bad thing.